Massenet: Thérèse

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Massenet
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Thérèse
PERFORMER: Huguette Tourangeau, Ryland Davies, Louis Quilico, Neilson Taylor; Linden Singers, New Philharmonia Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
CATALOGUE NO: 448 173-2 ADD Reissue
If Thérèse were an hour or so longer, it might be as well-known as Werther or Manon, for this brief, two-act rarity contains some of Massenet’s most evocative music. But its librettist Jules Claretie recognised the power of economy: ‘The work will be short, as the emotion is so charged that it cannot be prolonged.’ And so, at a little over sixty minutes and with no established companion piece (La navarraise, perhaps?), it remains obscure. This fine recording from 1973, however, deserves to bring it to a wider audience.

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Set during the French Revolution, it is essentially a three-hander (heroine, husband, lover, plus assorted soldiers). The Canadian mezzo Huguette Tourangeau is striking in the title role. Her dark-timbred, throaty tone may be an acquired taste, but she sings with such artistry and ardour that the effect is compelling. Louis Quilico is similarly forceful as her doomed husband, but Ryland Davies, though able, lacks colour as the fugitive marquis.

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The real credit belongs to Richard Bonynge, for his sharply focused direction, illuminating and impassioned, and the NPO for its superb playing. Claire Wrathall