OP0392. ESCLARMONDE (Massenet), Recorded 1974, w. Bonynge Cond. National Phil.; Joan Sutherland, Huguette Tourangeau, Giacomo Aragall, Clifford Grant, Louis Quilico, etc. 3-London 435 651, recorded 1990, w.Elaborate 70pp. Libretto-brochure. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 028942565128
“This overweight bon-bon from 1889 is one of Massenet’s most exotic and lush works, one filled with musical motifs that bring Wagner to mind. It was composed for the California-born soprano Sybil Sanderson, a large, stunning woman with whom Massenet was obsessed; her vocal agility, huge tone, and startling range (up to a G above high-C) are thoroughly exploited in the score, and it is no wonder that the opera is rarely performed. But along came Joan Sutherland, with all of the vocal characteristics and the opera was revived and recorded in 1974.
As it turns out, the opera is gorgeous if you can tolerate such an unending parade of orchestral colors; imagine a very expensive paint store exploding in front of you. The plot is all sorcery, enchanted isles, knights, and a quite dazzling exorcism, and if your belief can be suspended that much and you allow yourself to bask in it, this is one of opera’s greatest guilty pleasures. And the duets are as stunning as anything in MANON or WERTHER.
This performance is ravishing. In addition to the spectacular Sutherland, the under-recorded Catalan tenor Giacomo Aragall uses his attractive voice to great effect, baritone Louis Quilico is a proper menace as the exorcising Bishop, and Clifford Grant intones importantly as Esclarmonde’s father. Huguette Tourangeau’s weird mezzo is on display as Esclarmonde’s sister. Richard Bonynge leads a luxuriant performance.”
- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com, 16 Oct., 2006
“Perhaps ESCLARMONDE is a synthetic. Perhaps one leaves the theater feeling bathed in honey. But it is the work of a composer of immense skill, it has some beautiful melodies, and the vocal writing is a joy. So is the orchestration. In its day, ESCLARMONDE was accused of being Wagnerian, and one can see why. It is not only the lavish use of leitmotifs. Parts strongly suggest PARSIFAL. But the sweet vocal lines are Massenet's and nobody else's. And the role of Esclarmonde has a vocal part of considerable amplitude, range and coloratura technique - a Sutherland type of voice, in other words. No wonder Miss Sutherland was attracted to this opera….Miss Sutherland's instrument is still unique.
Most of the cast was fine. Clifford Grant, a bass from Australia, made his debut as Phorcas, and immediately revealed a vibrant voice and an imposing stage presence. He will be a valuable member of the house. Huguette Tourangeau was a lovely Parseis and John Carpenter made a fine impression as Eneas. Excellent singing also was forthcoming from John Macurdy as Cleomer.
Where Miss Sutherland is, so is her conductor, Richard Bonynge. This was one of his memorable performances. He led ESCLARMONDE with style and spirit, and with a firm rhythmic base not always encountered in his work in the past. Mr. Bonynge was very careful to work with the singers, holding the orchestra to a level over which the voices could easily penetrate. Yet he did not neglect the scoring, and the orchestra sounded firm, sonorous and - most important - sensuous. It was a most satisfactory evening, and it well could spark a look at some other virtually forgotten Massenet operas.”
- Harold C. Schonberg, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Nov., 1976 [review of the Met Opera presentation]