Dukas: Ariane et Barbe-Bleue

COMPOSERS: Dukas
LABELS: Telarc
ALBUM TITLE: Dukas
WORKS: Ariane et Barbe-Bleue

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PERFORMER: Lori Phillips, Patricia Bardon, Peter Rose, Laura Vlasak Nolen, Ana James, Daphne Touchais, Sarah-Jane Davies; BBC Symphony Orchestra/
Leon Botstein

CATALOGUE NO: CD-80680
Ariane et Barbe-Bleue is Dukas’s supreme masterpiece and one of the great early 20th-century operas. Its ardent advocates include figures as diverse as Schoenberg, Strauss, Korngold and Messiaen, and yet, a century after its premiere, it has still not entered the repertoire. Detractors have peddled nonsense about it being a difficult work to stage (as if directors take any notice of what the libretto says should be happening). Far more likely, surely, is that a sizeable portion of the male-dominated musical establishment found the liberated, proto-feminist views of Ariane uncomfortable. Whatever the reasons, the disregard of Ariane by opera houses and record companies has been baffling, for it is a captivating drama and the music is spellbinding. Three cheers then for this wonderful new recording, which, alongside the new production in Paris, hopefully marks an upturn in the opera’s fortunes.

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Greatest plaudits should go to Lori Phillips who is thoroughly convincing in the exceptionally demanding role of Ariane. When she sings that ‘first, one must disobey’, it is clear that it would take someone far stronger in purpose than Bluebeard to argue with her. The supporting cast is equally committed and Leon Botstein paces the music masterfully, conveying both the lavish colours and the latent menace of the score, though the sound leaves the orchestra a little recessed at times. Overall, though, this is a triumph, outclassing Tony Aubin’s 1968 live performance (Gala), and, Katherine Ciesinski aside, boasting a stronger cast than Armin Jordan’s long-deleted studio version with its over-bearing orchestra (Erato). Anyone who remains unmoved by the magical hush when Ariane opens the seventh door should see a heart specialist as a matter of urgency. Christopher Dingle