Bizet/Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

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COMPOSERS: Bizet/Gluck
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Orphée et Eurydice
PERFORMER: Léopold Simoneau, Suzanne Danco, Pierrette Alarie; Ensemble Vocal Roger Blanchard, Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux/Hans Rosbaud
CATALOGUE NO: 434 784-2 ADD (Reissue, 1956)
The Canadian tenor Léopold Simoneau was one of the most highly sought-after Mozart tenors of the Fifties, but with his light, heady timbre he was ideally suited to the lyric parts of the French Classical and Romantic repertory. These historic Philips reissues (in, be warned, the ‘limited edition’ Opera Collector series) preserve his superb account of the male title role in Gluck’s 1774 revision of Orfeo ed Euridice and his rapt singing of the high-lying tenor part of Nadir in Bizet’s youthful near-masterpiece, unequalled, let alone surpassed, in subsequent recordings (the Bizet was made in 1953, the Gluck in 1956).

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Just listen to the enchanting blend of refined artistry, the subtly coloured tone, the handling of the language in Nadir’s Romance or ‘J’ai perdu mon Eurydice’ to hear what has been lost with the demise of the French tenor school.

Indeed, both mono sets represent an idiomatic stylistic approach to mainstream French opera that has long since disappeared from the ‘international’ studios of today’s market-conscious record companies. Simoneau has artists around him who instinctively feel the idiom: his wife, Pierrette Alarie, a silver-toned Amour and Léïla with just a hint of ‘French soprano’ astringency to give dramatic edge to her lyric voice; the lustrous Suzanne Danco as Eurydice; and René Bianco, a rugged, occasionally blustering Zurga, who would have an international career if he were around today.

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Don’t expect ‘authentic’ Gluck from Rosbaud – a Schoenberg pupil and champion – or perfumed orchestral délicatesse in Fournet’s Bizet. But both conductors impart a musical vigour and theatrical integrity often sadly lacking in modern recorded performances. Hugh Canning