Massenet: Grisélidis

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Massenet
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Grisélidis
PERFORMER: Michèle Command, Claire Larcher, Brigitte Desnoues, Jean-Philippe Courtis, Jean-Luc VialaChoeurs de Lyon, Franz Liszt Budapest SO/Patrick Fournillier
CATALOGUE NO: 3-1270-2 DDD
If the recent interest shown by British opera houses in Massenet’s more obscure operas persists, then this excellent live recording from the 1992 Festival Massenet in St Etienne ought to make Grisélidis a contender for revival. Based on a story from Boccaccio’s Decameron, it is an enchanting treatment of an archly moral tale in which the Devil – a comic role – endeavours vainly to lead the virtuous Grisélidis astray, while her husband is away on a crusade. Musically, it is a very attractive and complex – if slightly tricksy – work: the Devil and his wife, Fiamina, are characterised by neo-classical music (indicative of his ‘Enlightened’ ways?) reminiscent of opera buffa, while Grisélidis, her husband and her shepherd suitor, Alain, have more contemporary music, reminiscent, at times, both of Pelléas, in its ability to evoke something shadowy and magical, and Puccini, in its expansive rapture. Orchestrally there are also glorious pastoral passages, marvellously played by the Orchestre Symphonique Franz Liszt.

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But if the score risks seeming contrived and forced, the performances are so fervent and true that the danger is avoided. Michèle Command is a creamy-voiced Grisélidis, touching and tormented in her duets with Jean-Luc Viala’s ardent Alain; while Jean-Philippe Courtis’s doughtily sung Devil and Claire Larcher’s striking Fiamina are characteristically, but not vocally, crude and conniving. Claire Wrathall