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Camille Saint-Saëns: Henry VIII
Michael Chioldi (Henry VIII), Ellie Dehn (Catherine d’Aragon), Hilary Ginther (Anne Boleyn), Yeghishe Manucharyan (Don Gomez de Feria), David Kravitz (Le Duc de Norfolk), Kevin Deas (Cardinal Campeggio), Matthew DiBattista (Le Comte de Surrey), David Cushing (Archbishop of Canterbury), Erin Merceruio Nelson (Lady Clarence), Jeremy Ayres Fisher (The Garter King of Arms), Odyssey Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Mariah Wilson (chorusmaster), Gil Rose (conductor)
Live recording: Jordan Hall, Boston, Massachusetts (September 21, 2019) – 224’01
4 CDs Odyssey Opera 1005 – Booklet in English – Libretto in French and English

Camille Saint-Saëns designed Henry VIII around the historical context of the 16th century infamous King. Though not a grand opéra, this four-act opera is imbued with monumental and majestic music with scents of post-Meyerbeerian gravity and linings of Verdi’s Don Carlos. After an astounding feat in recreating Gounod’s La Reine de Saba, Gil Rose upped the ante by returning to the full score of the Britannic drama, which includes an hour’s worth of additional music that never made it to the stage at its premiere on March 5, 1883. Saint-Saëns’ music, though generally moody, contains passages that give Henry VIII pops of luxuriance. The music has been beautifully mapped by a libretto by Léonce Détroyat and Armand Silvestre that is based on Pedro Calderón’s The Schism in England. Furthermore, M. Rose’s selection of voices is stellar.

Ellie Dehn has assiduously developed her operatic career since early 2000, with such roles as Agathe, Freia, Mimì, Countess Almaviva, Alice Ford and now, the lead female character, Catherine d’Aragon. Her voice has all the appropriate suppleness and clarity needed to reach all the upper and lower limits that help accentuate the ability to yield a wide sheen of empathy for her character. Michael Chioldi is a strong constant, giving unblemished directness and defiant firmness to Henry VIII with Hilary Ginther’s mezzo-soprano giving an indefatigable mindset of complicity to Anne Boleyn. As for Don Gomez, Yeghishe Manucharyan provides a piercing tenor brilliancy, akin to Edgaras Montvidas, that creates some of the most arresting passages, one being the conflict between Gomez and Anne Boleyn. Kevin Deas’ baritone register is richly broad, never gravelly and appropriately broody, as he assumes the high position of Cardinal Campeggio. Matthew DiBattista’s Le Comte de Surrey is a tad diluted yet pristine while David Kravitz’s baritone reaches bring a commanding resoluteness to his Le Duc de Norfolk.

Camille Saint-Saëns created tranches of eloquent passages in Henry VIII, including the impressive Synode Scene with a grand octet and choral support....the music builds majestically. As is often the case, the composer was gifted in his balletic compositions, and his Henry VIII is no exception: the music depicts the local colors of Scotland and England, to the tune of approximately 25 minutes.

One can hear Gounod’s 1877 Cinq-Mars at play and the composer’s early formulations, such as Le Timbre d’argent (1877) and Samson et Dalila (1877).

Big time Saint-Saëns scholar, Hugh MacDonald’s program notes are fascinating and informative; however, the libretto appears to have some missing text that is odd when so much energy has been poured into creating this new recording.

Few recordings of Henry VIII exist; therefore, this world premiere recording of the full compendium of Saint-Saëns’ orchestral score is worth its weight in gold.

Christie Grimstad




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