Gretry

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gretry
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Zémire et Azor; Danses villageoises; Céphale et Procris Suite
PERFORMER: Mady Mesplé, Roland Bufkens, Jean van Gorp, Sabine Louis, Jean-Claude Orliac, Suzanne SimonkaRTB CO& Chorus/Edgard Doneux, Orchestre de Liège/Paul Strauss
CATALOGUE NO: CMS 7 69701 2 ADD Reissue
More or less contemporary with Mozart, Grétry wrote more than fifty quintessentially Classical operas which enjoyed phenomenal success during his lifetime (this one was produced as far afield as New York in 1787). On the basis of this recording, made in 1974 in Brussels (Grétry was born in Liège but was dead by the time the state of Belgium was created, making him an honorary, if not actual, famous Belgian), it seems a shame that his work – or this comic reworking of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at any rate – has latterly been overlooked. The music, brightly performed by the Belgian Radio and Television Chamber Orchestra, is attractively melodic, if hardly profound, and the drama affords fantastical possibilities for an imaginative producer: a table decked with food appearing from nowhere, a magic moving picture in which the heroine watches her family after she has left them; and the transformation of the monstrous hero into a handsome young man.

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The chief attraction of this disc, however, is the casting of Mady Mesplé as the beauty Zémire. Her exemplary coloratura – ringingly clear and precise, if unnervingly fragile – is used to dazzling effect on the opera’s showstopper ‘La fauvetta avec ses petits’; and she is charming too, if a little passionless, in her ensemble pieces, especially the enchanting trio ‘Vieillons mes soeurs’ and her cheering closing scene with Roland Bufkens’s lyrical but ready and sometimes underpowered beast Azor. Claire Wrathall