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Ambroise Thomas La Cour de Célimène

Claycomb, Miles, Rodgers, Droy,

Opera Rara ORC37

The lightest of opéra-comique froth, dating from 1855, the last of his collaborations with his librettist rosier, and towards the end of Ambroise Thomas' reign, La Cour de Célimène polarised critics of the day. Many praised it, but it was damned by Le Figaro - "a firework display of trills, portamenti - - vocalise, caterwalling, gurgling, mumbling, arpeggiating, negotiating passage-work through their registers from the top to the bottom of the scale, securely on their feet, some standing on their heads", and had a mere 19 performances. There is to be found still something of a prejudice against French opera - after expressing our preference for Gounod's La Colombe in GSMD's double bill, one correspondent responded "French opera, yawn...".

The fine cast is headed by Laura Claycomb (admired recently in Pacini) as the vain Comtesse (nicknamed 'Célimène' after Molière's character in Le Misanthrope). She affects to despise all the men who swarm around her, and is portrayed quite subtly. A thin tale, with Célimène predictably settling for the tenor and her front-runner Le Commandeur (Alastair Miles) making do with the Comtesse's sister (Joan Rodgers). Twelve other suitors take part enthusiastically in a couple of duels...

Alert, impeccable performances and recording. The ever-joy of all Opera Rara's CD opera productions is their presentation in a thick, lavishly illustrated book [I enclose a happy session image]. Libretti are always supplied set in parallel with the original language opposite English translation (why, why don't DVDs allow this technically easy option, highly desirable for a second viewing, even if it might make the screen look a bit cluttered with words?).

Warmly recommended.

Peter Grahame Woolf