Gounod, Massenet, Bizet, Charpentier, Debussy, Gluck & Verdi

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bizet,Charpentier,Debussy,Gluck & Verdi,Gounod,Massenet
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: En Franais – Airs D’opéra
WORKS: Arias by Gounod, Massenet, Bizet, Charpentier, Debussy, Gluck & Verdi
PERFORMER: Valerie Masterson (soprano); National SO/John Owen Edwards
From the start of her serious and illustrious career, Valerie Masterson and French Romantic opera were always ideally suited to each other. This disc, recorded in 1991 and 1993 is a compilation of arias, both from roles that Masterson has performed on stage or on disc and from roles that she would have liked to have done but that somehow eluded her – Massenet’s Thais and Sapho (the lovely ‘Pendant un an je fus ta femme’) for instance. There are one or two stylistic oddities. Iphigenie’s ‘D’une image’, from Gluck’s Iphigenie en Tauride, for instance, is a rather straightlaced interlude – and Masterson lacks her usual fluency of phrasing in it – while the aria from Debussy’s scene L’enfant prodique seems also to disrupt the flow, though less so than might have been the case with, sall we say, more Debussyesque Debussy. That is certainly not the case, however, with Verdi’s ‘O ma chere compagne’, whose presence is justified because it comes from the Paris version of Don Carlos, and which fits in perfectly with such gems as ‘Depuis le jour’ from Charpentier’s Louise. Overall, then, this is a satisfying collection, unapologetically Romantic, shot through with the heady aroma of the belle epoque. Masterson’s voice, though perhaps at times lacking the last ounce of shine in its topmost register, shows plenty of that radiant, transparent, flexible quality which makes her so special in this repertoire. John Owen Edwards and the National Symphony Orchestra – a pick-up band – provide secure support, though the subservience of their role is relfected in the general balance of the recording. Stephen Pettitt