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Saint-Saëns: Henry VIII

Michael Chioldi, Ellie Dehn, Hilary Ginther, David Kravitz; Odyssey Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Gil Rose (Odyssey Opera)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Saint-Saëns
Henry VIII
Michael Chioldi, Ellie Dehn, Hilary Ginther, David Kravitz; Odyssey Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Gil Rose
Odyssey Opera OO 1005   224:01 mins (4 discs)

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In 1882 Saint-Saëns got his heart’s desire: a four-act commission from the Paris Opéra – one that remained in the repertoire until 1919. Boston’s Odyssey Opera has now recorded a live performance of Henry VIII with all the cuts opened. It’s the very model of Grand Opera with processions, choruses, spectacles and a ballet, though with its Highland theme the dances seem more Balmoral than Hampton Court!

This generous slice of inaccurate Tudor history focuses on Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, marriage to Anne Boleyn and the break with Rome. The Spanish playwright Calderón provided the basis for the libretto so it takes a sympathetic view of Henry’s first queen, but in the King’s anger with the Pope you sense French 19th-century arguments about the power of the church.

Here, the two queens – Ellie Dehn as Catherine and Hilary Ginther as Anne – are carefully contrasted, though vocally Anne has the edge over Catherine’s light lyricism, particularly in her Act II duet with Henry. The baritone Michael Chioldi is a brutal monarch, and the role is brutal too. It’s best to draw a veil over some of the supporting roles, other than Yeghishe Manucharyan as the Spanish Ambassador Don Gomez.

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Christopher Cook