Anaïs Constans, Edgaras Montvidas, Thomas Dolié, Ágnes Pintér, Tomislav Lavoie, Artavazd Sargsyan, Douglas Williams, Philippe-Nicolas Martin, Lóránt Najbauer; Purcell Choir; Orfeo Orchestra/György Vashegyi
Bru Zane BZ 1050 169:08 mins (3 discs)
Unstaged in Paris for over two centuries Les Abencérages, a kind of ‘missing link’ in the history of French opera, has been disinterred by Bru Zane. The overture with its two warring themes – romantic passion versus battlefield chivalry – announce a changed sensibility where the political is properly personal.
György Vashegyi and the Orfeo Orchestra find Beethoven – drums and trumpets and driving rhythms – in Cherubini’s score, and hints at the start of Act III of the Romanticism to come with Mendelssohn. While Étienne de Jouy’s libretto is set in the exotic Alhambra of late-15th century Moorish Grenada, its spectacle and masterly use of the chorus suggests the coming French Grand Opéra. Its story presents two warring factions within the last Spanish caliphate ready to be reconciled through the warrior Almazor’s marriage to Princess Norïme. That is until the villainous Vizier Alémar starts to plot!
Cherubini’s vocal line is free of Italian decorative thrills. Anaïs Constans handles Norïme’s high tessitura with grace, and Edgaras Montvidas’s Almanzor is a worthy heir to Louis Nourrit, the tenor who created the role in 1813. His farewell when exiled from Grenada having ‘lost’ the kingdom’s sacred standard on the battlefield is properly affecting.
Yet it’s the Purcell Choir who steal the vocal honours, with magnificent singing by the women in Act I as they prepare for the wedding, and the men rattling their vocal sabres handsomely as the plot thickens in Act II. For all that, the musical history is perhaps more striking than the opera itself.