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“Opéra français – Volume 18”
Charles Gounod: Le Tribut de Zamora

Jennifer Holloway (Hermosa), Judith van Wanroij (Xaïma), Edgaras Montvidas (Manoël), Tassis Christoyannis (Ben-Saïd), Boris Pinkhasovich (Hadjar), Juliette Mars (Iglésia, A slave), Artavazd Sargsyan (Mayor, Magistrate), Jérôme Boutillier (The king, An Arabian soldier), Bavarian Radio Chorus, Stellario Fagone (chorus master), Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hervé Niquet (conductor)
Recording: Prinzregententheater, Munich, Germany (January 26 and 28, 2018) – 141’13
Palazzetto Bru Zane # BZ 1033 – (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Book in French and English

While Charles Gounod’s grand opera, Le Tribut de Zamora, was enthusiastically received upon its premiere on April 1, 1881, the press’ impressions were less unified. Adolphe d’Ennery, the libretto’s brainchild, had a generalized pivot around the Battle of Zamora, though it was more historically dilutive (and more sensational) than that of Gounod’s earlier Cinq-Mars in 1877. Notwithstanding its relatively short theatrical run into 1905, this oft-forgotten work didn’t come without its assiduous claims to la pompe scénique on an over lavished scale in costume and set designs that could be mildly compared to Aida or Le Roi de Lahore.

Gounod, a fervent admirateur of Classical culture, demonstrated inside Le Tribut de Zamora a hallmark of these values. Not that one can expect a discovery of significant differences compared to the Parisian’s earlier works, there is, however, an exposure to a more mature Gounod: heavier in dramatic form, bordered in Italianate style and guised on a thickly fantastical plane.

This is why it’s interesting to glance back to his 1839 win of the Prix de Rome for the cantata, Fernand [a scène lyrique pour trois voix], that pushes back the musical timeline to July 1492 in Granada, Spain. This work’s plotline has ironic, divergent parallelisms with that of Le Tribut de Zamora: both are located in Spain (Le Tribut is centered around Oviedo and Córdoba), Muslims and Spaniards are in conflict, attempts to flee the city and distinctive protagonists (three within Fernand versus Le Tribut’s four significant personae) that bristle the storyline along as irritable agents.

This recording is nothing short of fundamentally superb, indicative of the cast chosen for this collection. Jennifer Holloway’s voice is vibrantly alive, at times appropriately sharp in tone and a bit biting as she unwinds the mystery behind her madwoman character, Hermosa. Soon to be discovered is her lost daughter, Xaïma who’s the key player surrounding all the operatic kerfuffle. In this role, Judith van Wanroij returns with an indelibly crisp, clear outreach and pinpointed delivery.

“Maintained consistency in the French melodramatic model”, Edgaras Montvidas brings with him earlier superlative dimensions from Saint-Saëns’ Les Barbares, David’s Herculanum and Godard’s Dante in order to land greater gravitas and a more convincing argument as Xaïma’s fiancée, Manoël. Furthermore, his Act IV opening “Cavatine” [ref: “J’ai pu, la nuit venue”] builds beautifully and adds a lovely loft of poignancy to Gounod’s score.

When boiling it all down, the opera’s wrath and demise are directed towards Ben-Saïd. In this case, Tassis Christoyannis proffers veritable substantiation to Le Tribut, particularly citing his “Romance” (“Je m’efforce en vain de te plaire!”) that politely [and forwardly] heralds implored charm without being overwrought. But it’s actually within Act IV where the listener develops a moment of pathos for the evil Caliph envoy. M. Christoyannis breathes forth abrasive sustenance, making Le Tribut de Zamora reach it’s fateful climax (at least in his court.)

Ushered in by harp entrée, Juliette Mars’ “Barcarolle” is dreamy and soft. Her young slave opens Act III (the most energetic and emotionally thrilling of the four acts) with pacificity, nicely seguing into M. Niquet’s two briskly paced pas, “Danse Grecque” and “Danse Espagnole” (with strongly similar opening bars to Carmen’s “Entr’acte” in Act IV.) Boris Pinkhasovich, a bit lighter in bass timbre, is keenly measured while adding a sharp tongue to his Hadjar. Meanwhile, Artavazd Sargsyan nicely takes on the supportive task as oratorical and governmental figureheads of magistrate and mayor.

Charles Gounod was a “giver” and a “receiver.” One can’t help but discern an analytical link to contemporaries, Georges Bizet and Camille Saint-Saëns. Firstly, the three note chime encased within Act I’s “Scène” harkens back to Bizet’s “Carillon” from L’Arlesienne Suite n° 1 of 1872. Moreover, Gounod’s influence on Saint-Saëns was indelibly convincing: turn to Act II’s “Morceau d’ensemble” and the tonic chording tenders uncanny similarity to Angiola’s piousness housed within Proserpine (1887) from Act II. Both ways, it makes a lasting French image of stated [and understated] delicate finery.

It would be on the “wish list” to re-enact and chronicle the original staging as it occurred at the Palais Garnier back in the 19th century. The substance of grandeur is unquestionable, and to that extent, we’re fortunate enough of this capture under Palazetto Bru Zane’s umbrella. Gounod aficionados will cogitate the finesse of Gounod’s French lyricism. Hopefully, Le Tribut de Zamora will likely turn enough heads to declare “oui” to a staged revival. A “thumbs up” on every front.

Palazzetto Bru Zane Website

Christie Grimstad




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