WORKS: Fernand Cortez
PERFORMER: Melena Marras, Cécile Perrin, Thierry Félix, Jean-Philippe Marlière; Martial Defontaine, Jean-Marie Lenaerts; Slovak PO & Chorus/Jean-Paul Penin
CATALOGUE NO: 206612
It was the Emperor Napoleon who commissioned Spontini to write this grandiose spectacle on the subject of Hernán Cortés and the Conquest of Mexico. His intention was to evoke parallels with his own incursions into Spain, a country he considered almost as backward and priest-ridden as the Conquistadors thought their victim state. Unfortunately, he took a poor view of the piece when it was staged in 1809, probably because the fictionalised hero was insufficiently triumphalist in victory.
The score itself, revised in 1817 to the form recorded here, went on to win a position of influence well into the nineteenth century, with Berlioz in particular a keen admirer. The sound on this recording is a touch stuffy, and some of the principals not really up to what are demanding vocal tasks, while the conductor tends to steer his way through rather than galvanise the music.
Spontini demonstrates seriousness of purpose and offers some striking ideas, with a particular aptitude for the ensemble – a form he raised to a new structural importance that left its mark on later practitioners in the French genre of grand opéra. Occasional moments of stiffness do not detract from a work that in many ways is a fine achievement. George Hall