No(s) Dames – A Genderless Tribute to Opera’s Heroines
Arias by Bellini, Bizet, Gluck, Grieg, Mozart, Offenbach, Verdi, Piazzólla, Tchaikovsky et al
Théophile Alexandre (countertenor); Quatuor Zaïde
NoMadMusic NMM095 76:41 mins
When did you last listen to a recording that credited the suppliers of gloves and corsets? But then when did you hear a countertenor embodying opera’s tragic heroines? Théophile Alexandre is a gifted dancer and an admired singer and No(s) Dames, with its punning title, is clearly his project. As he declares in the sleeve notes ‘In four centuries of masculine operas, heroines’ fates have been as monstrous as their arias are sumptuous. So what if, for once, Drama didn’t rhyme with Diva? What if we dared reversing the roles? What if we uncorseted gender stereotypes?’
Loosen your stays as in a sequence of 23 abbreviated episodes, we encounter Carmen, Barbarina, Alcina, Salomé, Manon, Violetta and Norma – and other ‘wronged’ women, who composers and their librettists have killed, abducted, abandoned or driven mad. The admirable Zaïde Quartet give them their music in arrangements by Eric Mouret, which range from a remarkable version of Offenbach’s Barcarolle to a somewhat hobbled dance for Salomé. Some of the tracks end with abrupt cuts – but is that perhaps irony at work?
Naturally, Théophile Alexandre is centrestage finding voices for his chosen victims, ‘covered’ for Amina’s ‘Ah! non credea mirarti’, creamily mezzo-ish for Carmen’s Habanera and for Violetta a soprano at the end of her vocal tether in ‘Addio del passato’. A delicious whiff of Gallic camp wafts across the whole recording with Alexandre a kind of night club torch singer, but it’s a reminder that theatre has always allowed us to slip in and out of gender.