It is a good thing that the Opéra Comique can still summon, as in its glory days, the forces required to take on some of the big operas of Charles Gounod. La Nonne Sanglante now released in an attractive Naxos DVD of a Fra/Opéra Comique co-production is a case in point.

Gounod did not have much of a success with this gothic yarn with a jerry rigged Scribe libretto when it premiered in 1854 Paris in the midst of backstage intrigues at the Opéra’s Salle Pelletier, from which it vanished after a handful of performances. The Opéra Comique brought it back a couple of years ago, when it had the good fortune to snag Michael Spyres for the tenor role of Rodolphe.

The role of the young scion of the Ludorf’s, one of the two warring families that drive with their antagonisms the convoluted plot of The Bleeding Nun calls for the quintessentially French hybrid dramatic-lyric-heroic tenor, a rare breed at the top of which American tenor Michael Spyres reigns.

And by top I also mean high-lying top. The part was conceived by Gounod for the French star tenor Louis Guéymard who built a career singing the unreasonably difficult roles of Arnold in William Tell, Jean de Leyde in Le prophète, and the title role in Robert le diable.

The other singers in this cast are good too, with standouts soprano Vannina Santoni pretty of voice and looks in the role of Agnés, soprano Jodie Devos a vocal and comic charmer in the pants role of Arthur, lyric bass Jean Teitgen eerily recalling in elegance and timbre the great Pol Plançon as the Hermit, and mezzo-soprano Marion Lebègue sonorous as the ghostly nun of the title.

The staging by David Bobée is mercifully unmannered, generally sticking to the point of the gothic ghostly tale with any unnecessary conceptual superimposing, save for a squirm-inducing group-grope in the third act.

The visual aspects of the production are uniformly somber and monochromatic with the men dressed in vaguely 20th century military fatigues and the women clad in neutral garb that places their outfits in a no-man’s/no woman’s land and time.

Laurence Equilbey conducts the Insula Orchestra and the choral ensemble accentus with panache, squeezing every musical ounce of fire and brimstone drama out of some of Gounod’s finest though neglected music.

Rafael de Acha                http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com