La princesse jaune
Judith van Wanroij, Mathias Vidal; Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse/Leo Hussain
BruZane BZ1045 74:30 mins
La princesse jaune embraces late-19th-century Japonaiserie. Yet Louis Gallet’s libretto for Saint-Säens’s one-acter with Kornelis, a young man who worships the image of a geisha in a drug-induced fantasy finally rescued by his down-to-earth white fiancée, leaves a sour taste in a modern mouth. The imagined East is feminised for Western male pleasure as a passive lotus land of drugs and easy sex.
Musically we are on firmer ground: Saint-Säens was always a fine orchestrator and there’s a masterly weaving together of oriental themes – the duet in which Kornelis mistakes Lena for his Japanese Geisha eschews oriental musical calling cards of the kind you expect in The Mikado or Madam Butterfly. Judith van Wanroij is a forthright Lena with a gift for soft singing, though at full voice she sometimes sounds strained. Mathias Vidal as her Japanese-obsessed young man sounds every centimetre a French tenor.
How odd then that it’s the ‘filler’ on this recording that lingers on the ear, a first-ever recording of Saint-Saëns’s six Mélodies persanes, reworked by the composer for a large orchestral piece. ‘La Splendeur vide’ sung by the baritone Jérôme Boutillier is sinuous and inviting – just what you want from Saint-Saëns.