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Two Bargain operas:
Falla Vida Breve
Anne Maria Sanchez
Asturias Symphony Orchestra/Maimiano Valdez

Naxos 8660155

I fear I'm the wrong person to review this, as I tend to find Falla's music on the whole rather bland and unengaging, though I am aware of his popularity and that others feel differently (my favourites of his works are the Harpsichord Concerto and Fantasía Baetica).

This performance and its rcording in sound to me lack-lustre and a minus point is that though the words are given in Spanish, there is only an English synopsis. Singing is OK but the story is unengaging and at the end the heroine gate-crashes her lover's wedding and just falls down dead at his feet. For afficionados, the Burgos/Guilini box with de los Angeles, including also Love the Magician & The Three-cornered Hat, is clearly preferable (EMI Classics: see Amazon review & offer at from £12.90) so I pass on to consider Charpentier.

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Charpentier David et Jonathas
Gerard Lesne; Monique Zanetti; Jean-Francois Gardeil;
Dominique Visse; Jean-Paul Fouchecourt
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie

Harmonia Mundi, Musique d'abord 1901289.90

William Christie's CDs have confirmed my high regard for this unique and marvellous opera, heard again recently at The Barbican conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm.

The recording is fine, with marked differences from last month's concert performance. Christie sounds to me lighter and more vivacious in his approach; Haïm went for greater intensity, appropriate probably for getting across the emotion of this drama to a general audience in a large auditorium. There arre several notable voices, familiar in the French baroque discography; the amazing, idiosyncratic haut-contre of Dominique Visse (The Witch), another, Gerard Lesne as David and the admired tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt as the 'villain' Joabel. Jonathan is taken again by a soprano, Monique Zanetti, but she has an eager, boyish voice more convincing than was Jael Azzaretti at The Barbican.

The texts are given in ideal form; in French from a facsimile of the original publication with parallel translations into English and German. Jean Duron's notes put the position of this opera clearly. " - it is an opera and by no means an oratorio - - to cut short any possible dispute, Marc-Antoine Charpentier had composed an oratorio on the same subject in 1681-82, Mors Saulis et Jonathas (H.403)."

From the essay, we learn more about the five act Latin spoken play Saul which was originally given sandwiched between Charpentier's five acts. There is no action in the opera because it had been narrated in the play. These were two contrasting aspects of the same drama, each reacting on the other, investing one another with greater power and increaingly refining the psychological character of the protagonists.

After double exposure to live performance and this recording, I am left with a strong desire to see the whole five hour composite work staged for revaluation (it is not so long since Berlioz's Les Troyens was thought too long for a single evening.)

Just the thing for an enterprising music college, to set an example to the professional opera promoters? How about one of our colleges taking up the challenge first, say London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama (which previously tackled the opera with William Christie to resounding success) or Trinity College of Music, which has a strong Early Music Department and an impressive record of staging plays? Or a college in France? Too late for production in this tercentenary year, but the right time to plan the project.


© Peter Grahame Woolf