French opera from the years just after the Revolution is sparsely represented in the CD catalogue. Cherubini holds his own, but Charles-Simon Catel is barely more than a name from this musically fertile era. Catel studied composition and piano with some of the greats of his day. Sémiramis of 1802 was his first opera and builds, rather shakily, on the vogue for reviving subjects from a more dignified period in 18th-century French opera. The emphasis is on exoticism and aggravated drama, rather than the seductive Italian lyricism so popular in Paris at the time; thus there is a great deal of accompanied recitative and dramatic emphasis rather than soothing arias.
Hervé Nicquet puts the drama at the top of his agenda, but also shows a strong sense of line and a gracious way with the dances. The chorus enters into the spirit of the proceedings, but its intonation is not always dependable. The solo roles, too, need more solidity, though Mathias Vidal is attractive as the troubled Arzace. This is a passionate performance, well recorded and well delivered; a pity Catel offers us so little melody.