Jules Massenet’s 1872 (revised in 1888) Opéra-comique Don César de Bazan is a charmingly unpretentious affair, chockfull of that which Massenet does best: spinning lovely melodies.
Massenet was a late bloomer, as this lightweight work proves, written when the composer was thirty and actually his first full-length opera.
But catch up Massenet did, writing twenty-nine more works for the stage, among them two unarguably qualifying as masterpieces: Werther and Manon. The libretto is vintage Romantic melodrama, inspired by Victor Hugo’s Ruy Blas.
The cast is top notch, with Laurent Naoury (a bass-baritone in reality) courageously tacking the high baritone title role and infusing it with humor. Soprano Elsa Dreisig is a charming Maritana, tenor Thomas Bettinger an elegant King Charles, and the honeyed voice mezzo soprano Marion Lebègue a standout in the trouser role of Lazarille. All four principals evidence the high standards of singing prevalent in French opera today
The haut de gamme Ensemble Aedes and the superb Orchestre des Frivolités Parisiennes are more than ably led by Mathieu Romano, who infuses Gallic panache into the proceedings.
The new NAXOS release is one of three Massenet works coming out this month. Up next Thais and Cendrillon, both of which we look forward to.
Rafael de Acha
Published by ALL ABOUT THE ARTS
Rafael de Acha has enjoyed a distinguished career in the arts as a performer, stage director, producer, and educator. He was born and grew up in Cuba. At the age of 17 he moved to the United States to study Drama at the University of Minnesota, and later Languages at L.A. City College, Music at the Juilliard School of Music, at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, and at the New England Conservatory of Music, from which he received the Master's degree. He has taught courses on the History of Music at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and at Florida International University, and contributed writings and reviews to Seen and Heard International (www.seenandheard-international.com ) and to this blog. He co-founded the award-winning New Theatre in Coral Gables, Florida, where he produced and staged twenty seasons of classical and contemporary theater, including fifty world premieres of plays that went on to have international and national productions on and off Broadway, including Ana in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz (Pulitzer Prize for Drama 2002 and Tony Nomination 2003.) In 2006 he was presented with a citation from The Dade County Cultural Affairs Council for “trailblazing contributions to the arts in South Florida.”
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