Author Topic: Massenet  (Read 105 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Tsaraslondon

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2398
    • My blog
  • Location: London, UK
Massenet
« on: October 13, 2019, 12:59:05 AM »
Any love for Massenet here?

I recently went to the Royal Opera's Werther, a favourite of mine, which I first saw nearly 40 years ago now in a Glyndeboure Touring production by Sir Michael Redgrave. I liked the Royal Opera's production but the performance was a bit disappointing to be honest, with Juan Diego Florez a bit underpowered in the title role and Isabel Leonard somewhat detached and unonvolved as Charlotte.

Still, it made me want to listen to the opera again and I've been doing something of a Massenet re-appraisal.  Slightly older than Puccini, he strikes me as being his French counterpart.

I note that Warner have released a 16 disc set, which retails at around £25, an undoubted bargain. However I already have two of the recordings (the Prêtre Werther and the Monteux Manon, and I have the Fleming Thaïs, which is a good deal better than the Sills version included here. Still I'd get four operas I don't have for £25, all in very acceptable performances, so maybe I should go for it.

« Last Edit: October 13, 2019, 02:51:19 AM by Tsaraslondon »
\"A beautiful voice is not enough.\" Maria Callas

Offline Tsaraslondon

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2398
    • My blog
  • Location: London, UK
Re: Massenet
« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2019, 01:21:59 AM »
Talking of Werther, it's an opera that's been extraordinarily lucky on disc, right from its first recording with Thill and Vallin under Elie Cohen. Some think this is still the best, and, from a performance point of view, maybe it is, but the sound shows its age and, in this most Wagnerian of all Massenet's operas, recorded sound can make quite a difference.

Other favourites would include the Plasson with Kraus and Troyanos, though, Kraus, as stylish as ever, does sound a bit old and Troyanos is perhaps too doom laden from the outset. The Davis is brilliantly conducted and Von Stade is ideal as Charlotte, but Carreras, beautifully though he sings, just misses that authentic French flavour one gets from Thill, Gedda and Alagna. The Barenboim is let down by Obrasztsova's overblown Charlotte.

I have both the Prêtre and the Alagna/Pappano, both of which I like very much. Alagna's superb Werther and Pappano's wonderful realisation of the score make it (just) my preference for the opera, even if I prefer De Los Angeles's sensitive Charlotte to Gheorghiu's, who can't quite disgiuse the fact that the role lies just a bit too low for her.

There are other versions which I haven't heard  (Villazon/Koch also with Pappano, Bocelli/Gertseva, Hadley/Von Otter, Vargas/Kasarova) but I haven't heard them. There's also a version in English, with Dame Janet Baker as a most affecting Charlotte, and that very good English tenor, John Brecknock as Werther, though he hardly erases memories of Gedda and Alagna, let alone Thill. Baker, on the other hand, is easily as good as the best Charlottes (Vallin, De Los Angeles and Von Stade).

On balance, I think Werther would be my favourite of all his operas.
\"A beautiful voice is not enough.\" Maria Callas

Online Biffo

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 1422
  • Location: United Kingdom
Re: Massenet
« Reply #2 on: October 13, 2019, 02:24:53 AM »
I saw a performance of Manon at ENO some 40 years ago. I enjoyed it enough to go see it when it was revived but it didn't tempt me any further as as far as the operas are concerned. I have the inevitable Meditation from Thais, probably several versions.

I have a two-disc set of the Orchestral Suites from John Eliot Gardiner and the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra and two of the Suites from Albert Wolff. I dip into these very occasionally. I have various other orchestral works scattered through French collections.

Massenet is a composer I enjoy when I listen to him but not one I visit very often.

Offline Tsaraslondon

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2398
    • My blog
  • Location: London, UK
Re: Massenet
« Reply #3 on: October 13, 2019, 03:04:32 AM »
I saw a performance of Manon at ENO some 40 years ago. I enjoyed it enough to go see it when it was revived but it didn't tempt me any further as as far as the operas are concerned. I have the inevitable Meditation from Thais, probably several versions.

I have a two-disc set of the Orchestral Suites from John Eliot Gardiner and the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra and two of the Suites from Albert Wolff. I dip into these very occasionally. I have various other orchestral works scattered through French collections.

Massenet is a composer I enjoy when I listen to him but not one I visit very often.

Beecham one said he would happily give all the Brandenburg Concertos for Manon and feel he had profited in the exchange, and a good performance can make you fee precisely that.

The old Monteux recording with De Los Angeles as Manon is just such a performance, a recording which captures to perfection a French style of performance which is now sadly lost to us. There have been other fine recordings, Sills and Gedda under Rudel, Cotrubas and Kraus under Plasson, Gheorghiu and Alagna under Pappano, but the Monteux is in a class all its own.



\"A beautiful voice is not enough.\" Maria Callas

Offline JBS

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2097
  • If music be the food of love, play on!
  • Location: USA
Re: Massenet
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2019, 05:12:42 PM »
Hmm...I have Werther, but it so unimpressed me I can't remember at the moment which recording it is. I think it's the Kraus.

I have the Fleming Thais. I don't have the Sills recording, but I did hear her do it live in a Met matinee radio broadcast, and that was very good. I think Milnes was her co-lead.

You called Werther the most Wagnerian of Massenet's opera. I deduce from that you never heard Esclarmonde.  I had the Sutherland recording on LP, and remember it as very good, although I never updated it to CD. 

Don Quichotte is a great little gem. I have the recording with Jose van Dam.

Offline Tsaraslondon

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2398
    • My blog
  • Location: London, UK
Re: Massenet
« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2019, 01:27:03 AM »
Hmm...I have Werther, but it so unimpressed me I can't remember at the moment which recording it is. I think it's the Kraus.

I have the Fleming Thais. I don't have the Sills recording, but I did hear her do it live in a Met matinee radio broadcast, and that was very good. I think Milnes was her co-lead.

You called Werther the most Wagnerian of Massenet's opera. I deduce from that you never heard Esclarmonde.  I had the Sutherland recording on LP, and remember it as very good, although I never updated it to CD. 

Don Quichotte is a great little gem. I have the recording with Jose van Dam.

You seem to like the operas I don't. I find Esclarmonde a bit over the top and the cloyingly sweet quasi religiosity of Thaïs tends to irritate me. It's a load of old hokum really; enjoyable enough if you can take that sort of thing. Incidentally, Massenet wsn't religious at all but wrote a great many works with religious themes, simply because they were popular with the public. "I don't believe in all that creeping Jesus stuff, but the public likes it and we must always agree with the public." Massenet always had an eye to the money spinners.

With Werther however, I feel Massenet was truly engaged with his subject and his characters. Both Werther and Charlotte are particularly well drawn. I don't wish to over stress the Wagnerian influences, because the opera, indeed all his operas, are still definitely French, and as much influenced by Meyerbeer as they are Wagner; but Wagner was everywhere at the time and his influence can be heard even more in the music of Chausson.  It has more to do with the way he binds the narrative together, the set pieces being less of a feature unto themselves. Werther is a much more subtle work than Esclarmonde or Thaïs and doesn't give up its secrets easily. I used to have the Kraus/Troyanos/Plasson recording on LP, but, though Kraus as ever is wonderfuly stylish, he does sound a bit long in the tooth and Troyanos, gorgeous though the voice sounds, is just a bit too heavy and doom laden. It is completely superseded by the Pappano with Alagna in one of his best recorded roles and Gheorghiu a much more girlish Charlotte, though De Los Angeles is even better on the Prêtre recording wuth Gedda. Werther is definitely my favourite of all his operas.

I do quite like Don Quichotte too though I don't have a recording of it. I used to have the Decca recording with Crespin, Ghiaurov and Bacquier on LP, but I like Van Dam, so would quite like the Plasson on CD.

As for Manon, I agree with Beecham in claiming it something of a masterpiece and a much more successful distillation of Prévost's novel than the Puccini opera. Massenet is better at capturing the brittle glitter of the French court and his Manon is much closer to the character in the novel. Puccini turns her into one of his poor little victims, whereas in Massenet and Prévost we see that Manon is a victim of her own love of luxury, the original material girl.

\"A beautiful voice is not enough.\" Maria Callas

Offline Moonfish

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 6403
  • Location: USA
  • Currently Listening to:
    Timeless soundscapes...
Re: Massenet
« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2019, 08:00:15 AM »
I actually triggered a composer thread for Massenet last year (after the shock of discovering that there wasn't one - perhaps there is a reason?).

http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,28237.0.html

I admit that I still have tons of listening to do when it comes to Massenet, but it seems like you have covered quite a few of his works.
"Every time you spend money you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want...."
Anna Lappé

Offline JBS

  • Veteran member
  • *
  • Posts: 2097
  • If music be the food of love, play on!
  • Location: USA
Re: Massenet
« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2019, 09:57:20 AM »
You seem to like the operas I don't. I find Esclarmonde a bit over the top and the cloyingly sweet quasi religiosity of Thaïs tends to irritate me. It's a load of old hokum really; enjoyable enough if you can take that sort of thing. Incidentally, Massenet wsn't religious at all but wrote a great many works with religious themes, simply because they were popular with the public. "I don't believe in all that creeping Jesus stuff, but the public likes it and we must always agree with the public." Massenet always had an eye to the money spinners.

With Werther however, I feel Massenet was truly engaged with his subject and his characters. Both Werther and Charlotte are particularly well drawn. I don't wish to over stress the Wagnerian influences, because the opera, indeed all his operas, are still definitely French, and as much influenced by Meyerbeer as they are Wagner; but Wagner was everywhere at the time and his influence can be heard even more in the music of Chausson.  It has more to do with the way he binds the narrative together, the set pieces being less of a feature unto themselves. Werther is a much more subtle work than Esclarmonde or Thaïs and doesn't give up its secrets easily. I used to have the Kraus/Troyanos/Plasson recording on LP, but, though Kraus as ever is wonderfuly stylish, he does sound a bit long in the tooth and Troyanos, gorgeous though the voice sounds, is just a bit too heavy and doom laden. It is completely superseded by the Pappano with Alagna in one of his best recorded roles and Gheorghiu a much more girlish Charlotte, though De Los Angeles is even better on the Prêtre recording wuth Gedda. Werther is definitely my favourite of all his operas.

I do quite like Don Quichotte too though I don't have a recording of it. I used to have the Decca recording with Crespin, Ghiaurov and Bacquier on LP, but I like Van Dam, so would quite like the Plasson on CD.

As for Manon, I agree with Beecham in claiming it something of a masterpiece and a much more successful distillation of Prévost's novel than the Puccini opera. Massenet is better at capturing the brittle glitter of the French court and his Manon is much closer to the character in the novel. Puccini turns her into one of his poor little victims, whereas in Massenet and Prévost we see that Manon is a victim of her own love of luxury, the original material girl.

Heh...I didn't actually say I liked Thais. I agree with you about its over-sweet religion appeal. But the Sills performance I heard was a good one.

Part of my problem with Werther is its story and source: the Goethe novel was too cloying and sentimental for me, and that might prejudice my opinion of the opera.

Esclarmonde was over the top, but in a good way.  Maybe that's why Sutherland was good in it.

I think I have heard Manon once in my life (not counting the Des Grieux aria that pops up in a lot of recital CDs). I don't particularly like the Puccini version, btw.

Are you aware that Van Dam appears in a DVD version of Quichotte?


Although the pricing on Amazon US suggests it is OOP. ($65 for a new cooy!)