Poulenc: Les mamelles de Tirésias; Le bal masqué

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Les mamelles de Tirésias; Le bal masqué
PERFORMER: Barbara Bonney, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Wolfgang Holzmair;Tokyo Opera Singers, Saito Kinen Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 456 504-2
It was in the introduction to his 1917 revision of his play The Breasts of Tirésias that Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term ‘surrealist’. Thérèse is bored with being a woman so decides to become a man: her balloon breasts free themselves, she takes the name Tirésias and her husband becomes the baby-maker – ‘Since my wife’s a man, It’s only fair that I’m a woman’ (George Hall’s translation in the booklet). The necessity of increasing birth-rates is the moral theme of both Apollinaire’s original and the hilarious opera Poulenc based on it in 1944 – Thérèse’s husband manages to produce 40,049 babies in one day.


It is high time for a new recording of Tirésias; the last – and first – was made in 1953 and, authoritative as it was, I can see this stunning new release – of a 1963 revision of the work – winning the opera a whole new generation of admirers. The cast is multinational and the provenance is Japanese (an offshoot of Ozawa’s Saito Kinen Festival), but the result sounds French. Barbara Bonney is in sparkling voice as Thérèse and Tiresias, while Fouchécourt is especially engaging as the Husband. Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra have tremendous fun with what must be Poulenc’s wittiest score and the whole enterprise has the whiff of vaudeville about it.


The apt coupling of Le bal masqué has Wolfgang Holzmair in fine voice, with a refined chamber ensemble led by Michel Béroff. The only thing that sullies this disc is a typographical nightmare of a booklet.