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Chabrier, Emmanuel: Briseis ou Les Amants de Corinthe CD Hyperion 1995

Chabrier: Briséïs


“As the Catechist, young Simon Keenlyside shows a beautiful, cultivated baritone.” Opera News

Briséïs ou Les Amants de Corinthe
Composer: Emmanuel Chabrier
Conductor: Jean Yves Ossonce
Briséïs : Joan Rodgers
Hylas: Mark Padmore
Le Catéchiste : Simon Keenlyside
Stratoklès : Michael George
Thanastô : Kathryn Harries
1st Maidservant : Gillian Taylor
2nd Maidservant : Ann Hetherington
Old Sailor : Graeme Danby
Sailor : John Prince
Scottish Opera Chorus
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Label: Hyperion
Code: CDA66803
Released: April 1995
Number of discs: 1
ASIN: B000002ZWB
Notes: Click here for details of the performance Catechiste: Briséïs ou Les Amants de Corinthe, Chabrier

What the critics say

Ronald Crichton for Opera, October 1995

“ Corinth in the time of Hadrian: Briséïs, a young girl, is passionately in love with the mariner Hylas. Her mortally sick mother, Thanasto, a Christian convert, is determined that Briséïs shall give up the pagan Hylas and follow her example. At the end of the act Briséïs is led off, obedient but miserable, by a Christian Catechist, to a life of chastity (the final scene of all, which Chabrier never reached, showed Briséïs, vowed to conversion, kill herself and persuade Hylas to die with her).”

“The first impression of the intoxicating score is of plunging into a warm, swirling, phosphorescent and perfumed sea. Later one becomes aware of the equally important religious debate and the curious anticipation of Strauss’s Jokanaan, divided as it were into two opposing halves, the Catechist and the old servant Stratocles, doughty champion of Apollo and Olympus. The music for both has a certain bombast, relieved it is true by spicy harmony and flashing orchestral colours. Most impressive is the sudden hush when Stratocles tells the story of the mariners off the island of Paxos (in the Ionian sea) who one night heard a mysterious voice reiterating “Pan is ded”, a legendary incident (also told by Plutarch) symbolically coinciding with the birth of Christ.”

“Mendès makes out a neat case for paganism, but musically as well as historically Christianity wins, greatly assisted in the recording by the outstandingly intelligent singing of Simon Keenlyside, who shares the vocal honours with the tenor Mark Padmore, radiant and clear as Hylas. As the heroine, Joan Rodgers has lovely, gleaming top notes but they do not always help the words. Kathryn Harries (Thanasto) and Michael George (Stratocles) also suffer from time to time from orchestral exuberance. Those in the hall may have had a different impression. In any case, one can’t regret that Jean-Yves Ossonce so excitingly gives the orchestra its head.”

Gramophone, August 1995

“…The performance was rightly hailed with acclamation by the Edinburgh Festival audience. Joan Rodgers who as the heroine is on stage throughout the act, copes brilliantly with her cruelly exacting, high-lying part, in which she shows no sign of tiring. The initial scene between her and the fresh-voiced Mark Padmore (whom we have previously heard only in earlier music) is over-long by dramaturgical criteria, but both artists convincingly convey the two lovers’ ecstasy. Kathryn Harries as the mother and Simon Keenlyside as the catechist are both excellent in their demanding roles (Chabrier did not spare his singers). Except for Michael George, whose vibrato becomes disturbing, the whole cast’s enunciation (in very good French) is admirably clear; and the orchestral playing is both eloquent and full of nuance. A decisive first British performance of this hitherto little-known work…”

Roger Delage for Opéra international, August 1995

Translated (below) by Ursula Turecek

“…Simon Keenlyside – le Catéchiste – et Michael George – Stratoklès – sont, l’un comme l’autre, également convaincants, pour exalter les bienfaits différents et les vertus antinomiques de l’ancienne et de la nouvelle religion…”

“…Simon Keenlyside – the catechist – and Michael George – Stratokles – are, one as the other, equally convincing to glorify the different benefits and contrary virtues of the old and the new religion…”

C. J. Luten for Opera News January 6 1996

This is the only completed act of a three-act opera left by Emmanuel Chabrier at his death, in 1894. The story, based on Goethe’s ballad The Bride of Corinth, concerns the pagan Briséïs, who, though betrothed to Hylas, converts to Christianity and takes an unbearable vow of chastity as the price of saving her mother’s life.

Catulle Mendès saddled Chabrier with a text even less dramatic in pace and focus than the one he fashioned in 1885 for Gwendoline, the composer’s other opera written in a free adaptation of Wagnerian style. Despite the odds, Chabrier asserts himself in the lyrical, cunningly harmonized opening scene, where one finds Hylas aboard ship, yearning for his beloved. An impassioned if overlong love duet dominates the following episode. The fourth and last scene, the richest in invention, has a tug- of-war for the heroine’s allegiance, followed by Briséïs’ suicide.

Jean Yves Ossonce leads this animated, idiomatic performance, from a well-engineered 1994 BBC broadcast. Hyperion provides full text and translation. Apart from a quavery Apollonian priest (Michael George), the cast is strong. In the daunting roles of the lovers, Joan Rodgers and Mark Padmore are mostly assured, always expressive. Kathryn Harries is also worthy as Briséïs’ mother. As the Catechist, young Simon Keenlyside shows a beautiful, cultivated baritone.

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