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