Thomas: La Cour de Célimène

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Opera Rara
WORKS: La cour de Célimène
PERFORMER: Laura Claycomb, Alastair Miles, Joan Rodgers, Sébastien Droy; Philharmonia Orchestra/Andrew Litton


Ambroise Thomas is remembered chiefly as the composer of Mignon and Hamlet. But he wrote at least 20 operas, most of which lie forgotten today. Opera Rara’s latest release – a world premiere recording, unsurprisingly – represents a canny rediscovery, for La cour de Célimène is an utterly charming work. Belonging in the middle of Thomas’s output, it was premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1855, but may not have been quite robust enough to survive there long. The courtly story may also have been out of tune with the times, for it tells of a flighty Countess (nicknamed Célimène in honour of a similar character in Molière) with 14 suitors, including the Commander to whom she is betrothed. Within just a few bars, the overture evokes an atmosphere of the ancien régime, and the music remains graceful and lively throughout. Andrew Litton conducts the Philharmonia with panache. The Countess is characterised in some dazzling coloratura, which Laura Claycomb sings with aplomb. Her widowed sister, the Baroness, takes a dim view of her amorous games but is not above some florid vocalism herself, and Joan Rodgers’s slightly darker tone establishes a perfect contrast here. The worthy and pompous Commander is brought to life in the robust bass of Alastair Miles, and his rival Chevalier is sung with idiomatic ease by the French tenor Sébastien Droy. Also in pursuit of the Countess are Four Adolescents, Four Young Men and Four Old Men, parts taken with a sense of fun by members of the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir. There is plenty of listening pleasure here in another well-recorded Opera Rara gem. John Allison