Arias and Duets from French Operas

Monsigny (1729-1817) – Where am I? from The Beautiful Arsenea sung by Sandrine Piau

Edelmann (1749-1794) – But Theseus is absent from Ariadne in Naxos sung by Veronique Gens

J C Bach (1735-1782) –Unhappy me! What is this I hear! from The Clemency of Scipio – sung by Sandrine Piau and Veronique Gens

Gluck (1714-1787) – If you ever hear from The Clemency of Titus – sung by Sandrine Piau

Gluck (1714-1787) – Divinities of the Underworld from Alceste – sung by Veronique Gens

Loiseau de Persuis (1769-1819) – Oh Tutelary Divinity from Fanny Morna – sung by Sandrine Piau

Grétry (1741-1813) – United since our childhood days from An embarrassment of riches sung by Veronique Gens

Cherubini (1760-1842) – A moment at the altar from Demophon – sung by Sandrine Piau and Veronique Gens

Sacchini (1730-1786) – Barbarous love, tyrant of the hearts from Renaud sung by Veronique Gens

Grétry (1741-1813) – Dear object of my thoughts from Aucassin and Nicolette – sung by Sandrine Piau

Dalayrac (1753-1809) – Heaven, protector of evil ones from Camille – sung by Sandrine Piau and Veronique Gens


Funny how vocal categories are divided and classified, and new names are invented to define and redefine vocal types when it would be a lot easier just to leave well enough alone and allow individual voices to simply sing without labelling them.

The Germans are particularly adept at this, with a category like Kavalier Baryton used to describe baritones who sing gentlemanly roles, even when the gentlemen doing the singing are spineless cads, like the Count in The Marriage of Figaro.

The French are runners up in this regard, although instead of adjectivizing operatic parts, they name vocal types after singers from long times ago, whom nobody alive today ever heard, like baritone Jean-Blaise Martin, who died nearly 200 years ago and whose name has become a vocal type: the baritone Martin (Pélleas, Mercutio, etc.)

Then there is the Falcon – not the bird but a soprano type – named after Cornélie Falcon, a hybrid voiced creature who sang back in the day when Meyerbeer, Berlioz and Halévy were themselves stars at the Paris Opera. This strange practice has lingered on, although one is hard put to see the names of tenor or soprano singers listed on the websites of opera companies called leggiero or spinto or dramatic or lyric or coloratura – an annoyingly pedantic practice that infuriates singers who move from light to heavy to comic to serious with no need for labels and the inevitable accompanying inaccuracies.

I sat down to listen to Rivales, the ALPHA recording that features the two French sopranos Sandrine Piau and Veronique Gens with the simple expectation of enjoyment based on the musical and vocal talents of these two very fine artists. I was nowhere near disappointed with the quality of their singing, although I was surprised by how the repertoire was chosen.

Purely basing my opinions on sound and shunning any preconceived notions I found the singing of both mesdames Gens and Piau very stylish, their bright, forward, light, typically French vocal production perfect for the music, their handling of the language nothing short of perfect. Whatever roles they do or do not sing, I did not hear the kind of contrast one would have heard in a soprano and mezzo recital. Neither did I hear much contrast from selection to selection. Occasionally I would have wanted more  vocal weight and fire in Alceste’s address to the denizens of the underworld and more humorous ariettas to lighten up the mood amidst all those tirades from queens and priestesses.

The recording of these arias and duets from French operas written during the transitional years from Baroque Opera to the Classical era is invaluable, introducing the listener to the music of composers whose names are, for the most part, obscure to the average opera goer.

Rafael de Acha

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