Auber: Fra Diavolo

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Fra Diavolo
PERFORMER: Nicolai Gedda, Rémi Corazza, Jane Berbié, Thierry Dran, Jules Bastin, Mady Mesplé, Michel Trempont, Michel Hamel, Michel Marimpouy; Ensemble Choral Jean Laforge, Monte Carlo PO/Marc Soustrot
The tunes of Daniel-François-Esprit Auber are fortunately more memorable than his name. Indeed, he was one of the most popular and successful composers of the 19th century. His grand opera La muette de Portici notched up over 500 performances in Paris between its premiere in 1828 and 1882, while an apparently unquenchable flow of the opéras comiques in which he specialised entertained Parisian audiences for more than four decades, making the tunesmiths of our day look like laggards in comparison.


The most famous, and generally considered the best of them, is Fra Diavolo, the story of a brigand whose amorous exploits (he charms the pants off the ladies he is about to rob) and Robin-Hood-like egalitarianism make him an ideal operatic anti-hero. Marc Soustrot’s reading may lack something of the sparkle needed for an opéra comique such as this, but it is sympathetic to the subtleties and original touches of Auber’s score – the frequent changes of harmonic direction within a number, for instance. Nicolai Gedda is well cast as the jolly rogue Diavolo himself: his third-act bravura aria, ‘Je vois marcher sous ma bannière’, is dispatched with swashbuckling bravura.


The remainder of the cast, exclusively French – which lends the spoken dialogue fluency at least – is adequate rather than outstanding. It is good to have this recording – the only one currently available – back in the catalogue, though, for all its merit, I can’t see it sparking a latter-day revival of the work. Barry Millington