LABELS: Opera Rara
PERFORMER: Deborah Cook, Christian du Plessis, Alexander Oliver, Della Jones, Marilyn Hill Smith, Roderick Earle, Ian Caley; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra/James Judd
CATALOGUE NO: ORC 5 DDD
Dinorah belongs to a bygone age when audiences – particularly French audiences – went to the opera or, in this case, Opéra-Comique, for an evening of pure escapism. They wanted to be beguiled by the music, dazzled
by the prima donna’s pyrotechnics, and charmed by the scenic effects. Giacomo Meyerbeer – the Andrew Lloyd Webber de ses jours, or rather a good cut above – was their man.
In Dinorah (1859), one of his most entrancing and silliest works, he supplied an opéra comique replete with delectable tunes, a heroine who has already lost her mind when the curtain goes up – and thus ready to sing a dizzy coloratura aria from the word go – and pastoral local colour. After a fall from a hanging bridge, she is presumed dead, but is restored to her senses, to her long-lost love, Hoël, and to her errant goat, Bellah (the reason, I suspect, for the opera’s neglect in the theatre), before the final scene. As I said, pure escapism.
But, in this Opera Rara reissue from 1979, Dinorah is sheer delight, with Anglophone singers who may not have top-quality ‘international’ voices, but who have studied under Judd’s affectionate direction. Of how many ‘big name’ French opera recordings can you say that?
In recent years, Dinorah’s celebrated ‘Shadow Song’ has been championed on record by dramatic coloraturas such as Callas and Sutherland, but the ingenuegoat-girl really belongs to that unfashionable canary-fancier’s voice, the light, high coloratura soprano, of the Patti and Galli-Curci type. Deborah Cook – who sang Zerbinetta for Glyndebourne in the Seventies and Lucia in Buxton – fits the bill extremely well with her chaste, silvery tones. She gets strong support from du Plessis, Oliver and, especially, Jones as the travesty goatherd.
This recording adds up to more than the sum of its parts and we should be grateful to Opera Rara – and the sponsor, the Peter Moores Foundation – for bringing such rare, illicit pleasure.Hugh Canning