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Saint-Saëns: Phryné

Florie Valiquette, Cyrille Dubois et al; Choeur du Concert Spirituel; Orchestre de l’Opéra de Rouen Normandie/Hervé Niquet (BruZane)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
BZ1047_Saens

Saint-Saëns
Phryné
Florie Valiquette, Cyrille Dubois, Thomas Dolié, Anaïs Constans, François Rougier; Choeur du Concert Spirituel; Orchestre de l’Opéra de Rouen Normandie/Hervé Niquet
BruZane BZ1047   60:22 mins

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Saint-Säens’s posthumous reputation does him few favours and Palazzetto Bru Zane seems determined to rescue the composer’s good musical name. Phryné is that organisation’s sixth recording of his forgotten music.

This short opéra-comique from the 1890s takes its musical cue from Gérôme’s celebrated salon painting, Phryné devant l’aréopagein which a young Athenian woman is disrobed before the city’s judges to prove her beauty. With little chance of staging that, Saint-Säens opts for a story about young love – Phryné and Nicias – besting a hypocritical guardian-uncle, the magistrate Dicéphile.

In revisiting classical Greece, Phryné is probably rebuking a younger generation of French composers who were whoring after strange Nordic Gods East of the Rhine; but it’s really Gallic delight in calling an old fool to heel with echoes of Molière and Offenbach.

Florie Valiquette is a winning Phryné, and Cyrille Dubois all that you could hope for in a French tenor as her beloved Nicias – their Act II duet deserves to be much better known. Yet it’s Saint-Säens who is his own hero: the ensemble that ends Act I is masterly, and as ever a silky orchestrator works his magic – the prelude to Act II is spun gold in the hands of the admirable Hervé Niquet.

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Christopher Cook