Méhul’s opera Uthal conducted by Christophe Rousset

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LABELS: Ediciones Singulares
WORKS: Uthal
PERFORMER: Karine Deshayes, Yann Beuron, Jean-Sébastien Bou, Sébastien Droy, Philippe-Nicolas Martin, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Artavazd Sargsyan, Jacques-Greg Belobo; Choeur de Chambre de Namur; Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset


This is an anniversary year for Etienne Méhul, who died in 1817 aged 54. In his lifetime he enjoyed mixed albeit often genuine success in the theatres of Paris, though little of his music long survived him. Yet he has had his subsequent admirers: Weber, Berlioz and Wagner all recognised his originality and seriousness of purpose, even though – ironically – the essay by Berlioz included among the CD’s lavish accompanying material is not especially enthusiastic about Uthal.

This one-act opéra-comique (opera with dialogue) was premiered in 1806 and enjoyed limited success, with only sporadic revivals thereafter. Its most distinctive feature is Méhul’s dropping altogether of violins, which gives the score a deliberately sombre colouring matching the setting – the legendary northern world of the ‘Ossian’ poems published by James Macpherson in the 1760s whose authenticity has been (to say the least) much questioned. Napoleon, however, loved them – which is presumably why Méhul wrote this opera.

In it Uthal is a warrior who removes his father-in-law Larmor from the throne, causing his conflicted wife Malvina to desert him: eventually a reconciliation is brought about. Meanwhile, from the storm-driven overture onwards Méhul has kept his eye upon the drama. It’s a worthwhile rediscovery.

Here Yann Beuron is the keenly engaged Uthal, while Jean-Sébastien Bou gives Larmor a wronged nobility and Karine Deshayes is consistently expressive as the anguished Malvina. There’s characterful work from the period instrument players of Les Talens Lyriques, while conductor Christophe Rousset emphasises the drama inherent in the music.


George Hall