Catel: Les bayadères

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Ediciones Singulares
WORKS: Les bayadères
PERFORMER: Chantal Santon, Philippe Do, André Heyboer, Mathias Vidal, Katia Veletaz, Jennifer Borghi, Mélodie Ruvio, Frédéric Caton, Thomas Bettinger, Eric Martin-Bonnet, Thill Mantero, Kareen Durand; Bulgarian National Svetoslav Obretenov Choir; Solamente Naturali, Musica Florea/Didier Talpain


Charles-Simon Catel (1773-1830) was one of the more substantial figures, as both theorist and composer, in post-Revolutionary French music before Berlioz. Well-schooled in providing music for big public occasions, his better known operas mingle high-mindedness with the kind of melodious militarism that certainly appealed to Napoleon. In fact, Les bayadères, premiered in 1810, notwithstanding its exotic setting in Benares, is very close to Spontini’s Napoleonic favourite La vestale both in sentiment and plot. Throughout the first act the music is invariably charming, but it rarely escapes the niceties of late 18th-century opéra comique. Drama is rarely to the fore and the coup which deposes the virtuous Démaly is played entirely off-stage. The temperature rises somewhat in the second act, but well-meaning calm descends in the largely ornamental third.

Nevertheless, the work is well served by this CD, beautifully presented as a book with impressive accompanying notes. This is an excellent ensemble performance with tight and responsive orchestral accompaniment which rises with gusto to the more modest challenges of the second act. The choir is rather less firm in tone and more distant in sound. None of the soloists fall short: Philippe Do as the tortured Rajah Démaly sings attractively throughout and Chantal Santon brings a great deal of emotional conviction to the more dramatically demanding role of his love, Laméa. At the other extreme, André Heyboer provides just the right blend of bluster and triumphalism as the villainous Olkar. On the whole a fine performance. If only Catel’s music were more riveting.


Jan Smaczny