Bonynge: Massenet - Esclarmonde (3 CD, FLAC)
Bonynge: Massenet - Esclarmonde (3 CD, FLAC)

Performer: Ryland Davies, Louis Quilico, Clifford Grant, Jaume Aragall, Joan Sutherland, Huguette Tourangeau, Robert Lloyd, Graham Clark
Orchestra: National Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Richard Bonynge
Composer: Jules Massenet
Audio CD
SPARS Code: ADD
Number of Discs: 3
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Label: Decca
Size: 743 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Disc 1
01. Prologue – Dignitaires! Guerriers!
Act 1
02. Roland! Roland! Comme ce nom me trouble
03. Parséis! – O ma soeur
04. Ah! trop malheureuse Esclarmonde!
05. On vient, ma soeur!
06. C’en est fait!
07. Esprits de l’air! Esprits de onde!
08. Roland! Roland! Roland!
Act 2
09. Ah! Ah!
10. Où suis-je?
11. Sois bénie, ô magie
12. Voici le divin moment
13. Hélas! Ma bien-aimée!
14. Ecoute encor!
15. O glaive, à ton aspect

Disc 2
Act 3
01. O Blois! Misérable cité!
02. Kyrie eleison
03. Dieu de miséricorde
04. Noble héros!
05. Gloire! Chantons notre victoire! A toi, Roland
06. Gloire! Chantons notre victoire! Gloire à Roland!
07. La nuit bientôt sera venue
08. Mon fils, je te bénis!
09. Je ne m’appartiens plus
10. A genoux!
11. Ah! Roland!
12. Regarde-les, ces yeux plus purs
13. Non! Tu ne seras pas à ms tranports ravie!

Disc 3
Act 4
01. Entendez tous
02. Oui, le délai marqué s’avance
03. Les temps vont s’accomplir
04. Elle a voulu choisir
05. D’ne longue torpeur
06. Où suis-je mantenant?
07. Donc, pour sauver la vie
08. Il vient! Ah! quel supplice!
09. Ne plus te voir!
10. Epilogue – Dignitaires! Guerriers! Sous ces augustes voûtes

Sutherland’s favorite recording

A few years ago I read an online interview with Joan Sutherland. In answer to a question about which of her many recordings was her favorite, she replied not Lucia or Norma or Semiramide, but Esclarmonde. I was very gratified to read this, as this recording of Massenet’s little known score has been one of my desert island recordings since it first came out around the end of 1976.

Esclarmonde is probably the closest Massenet ever came to composing a Wagnerian opera. He makes a modest use of leitmotivs and his orchestration is more massive than it is in any of his other operas with which I’m familiar, with the love music rivaling that of Tristan und Isolde. The opera is largely forgotten nowadays, probably because of the difficulty of the title role. Massenet composed this opera for Sybil Sanderson, exploiting her enormous range. The title role goes up to a high F and there is even an optional high G.

Of course the raison d’être for this recording was Joan Sutherland’s and husband Richard Bonynge’s interest in the music. And rightly so, as Sutherland puts her indelible stamp on this opera, bringing her regal quality to bear in every measure. And while she does not do the high F or G, a point of controversy when the recording was first issued, she is in thrilling voice up to and including the Es (for what it’s worth, the soprano in the other complete recording of Esclarmonde does not take the F or G either). This recording was made at roughly the mid-point of Sutherland’s big career and so her voice is still very strong throughout its range.

The other singers, most of whom were on hand for Sutherland’s initial series of stage performances of Esclarmonde in San Francisco in 1974, are all quite good as well. Bonynge, a Massenet specialist, shows an amazing affinity for this music.

It’s a shame that Sutherland did not keep this role in her repertoire long enough for there to have been a video of it, as this magnificent work has retreated back into the shadows until another soprano of Sutherland’s caliber (assuming that there ever is such a thing) appears to bring it back out into the public eye. In the meantime, we at least have this glorious recording to remind us of the qualities of this opera and especially of the talents of its star. Very highly recommended.

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