Auber: Le domino noir; Gustave III Overture & Ballet Music

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Auber
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Le domino noir; Gustave III Overture & Ballet Music
PERFORMER: Sumi Jo, Isabelle Vernet, Bruce Ford, Jules Bastin, Gilles Cachemaille; London Voices, English CO/Richard Bonynge
CATALOGUE NO: 440 646-2 DDD
History values Daniel-François-Esprit Auber for the wrong reason. Famous for having contrived French grand opera with La muette de Portici in 1828, Auber was actually a more interesting kind of revolutionary. Like Satie, he was a genuine eccentric, who could appear casual and flip about his work but wrote music exquisitely crafted, subtly distinctive and irresistible. The Black Domino, one of a string of comic operas (he wrote one or two a year for some forty years), is an excellent example of this, however much Eugène Scribe’s hopelessly convoluted libretto uses all the clichés, from masked ball to convent.

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And so, too, is this exemplary recording of it. Decca has gone back to an old formula from the Sixties and early Seventies of reviving forgotten bel canto operas as unapologetic vehicles for star singers, usually conducted with benign dramatic neglect but with bold recorded sound. Here, Sumi Jo, the Korean coloratura, takes a convincing star turn singing elaborate phrases with the greatest of ease, reliable musicality and no surfeit of personality to get in the way. The rest of the cast provides a splendid ensemble. Bonynge’s all-purpose sparkle and the self-effacing support of his singers, often seeming a detriment in his earlier recordings, here sound almost refreshing in an age of pushy conductors. The Gustave III ballet music is an unnecessary filler, but takes nothing away from the considerable pleasures of Le domino noir. Pounce. Mark Swed