ustave Charpentier’s “musical novel,” contemporaneous with (and aesthetically opposite to) Pelleas et Melisande, has been a favorite with the public ever since its premiere in 1900. Difficult to stage-yet unmistakably a stage piece, whose effect on records is much reduced-it has had relatively few U.S. revivals in recent years and is a latecomer to stereo LP. At long last, Angel’s version follows hard on the heels of a Columbia album reviewed here February 5, 1977, with Ileana Cotrubas and Placido Domingo.
In the case of Beverly Sills and Nicolai Gedda, it is late to be expecting vocal freshness and ardor, but from artists of this caliber one is glad to settle for experience. Miss Sills is comfortable and expressive in French, and her sense of drama keeps alive the relationship between Louise and her parents. Understatement proves a powerful ally: in the last act she rises like a phoenix from a posture of seeming crushed submission, unable at last to take any more of the sentimental guilt so eloquently troweled onto her by Jose Van Dam as the Father. Earlier on, notably in “Depuis le jour,” a quietly reflective approach-while it does serve to portray Louise’s sensitive nature-cannot conceal or reduce the beat that creeps into sustained notes.
Gedda’s Julien sounds self-involved, actually not a bad solution for this problem character. In like fashion, the Mother of Mignon Dunn, absorbed in her sense of martyrdom, comes across with the right mixture of hysteria and richly voiced bitterness. Martyn Hill sings with lyric grace the lines of the Noctambulist and King of Fools, while Christiane Chateau and Eliane Lublin are effective in vignette roles, as is Jacques Mars as the old Ragpicker.
In contrast with the Columbia album, which was recorded in London, this one enjoys the idiomatic support of the chorus and orchestra of the Paris Opera. It also enjoys the procession of hoary “traditional” cuts so tightly glued into the Paris parts that one despairs of ever hearing Louise whole, despite Andrew Porter’s promise in the liner notes. If Julius Rudel’s conducting doesn’t exactly smack of the boulevards, it keeps everything together and moving-no mean achievement for this disorderly score. Is the result better than the Columbia Louise? In some particulars, perhaps; as a totality, no; but it runs close. And it provides a needed modern translation, albeit laced with British slang.