on October 31, 2001
Why this wonderful opera is not performed on a frequent basis is beyond me. Without question, it contains some of Massenet's most dramatic and instantly accessible music. Beginning with the gripping prelude, with it's military and foreboding textures, one is captivated by this wonderfully concise yet dramatic story of love, war and madness. Even the entr'acte, a lovely nocturne, is sublime and definetely on par with anything ever written by Massenet; it serves as a most welcomed respite. The conclusion will make the hair on your arms stand up, as once again the prelude returns confirming the sense of tragedy it heralded from the very beginning. What can be said about the cast except that we have three major talents at their vocal prime approaching their roles with all the intensity and panache one would expect from them? The analogue recording is simply beyond reproach, with the London Symphony under Lewis sounding both resplendent and refined. One could wish that most digital recordings were imbued with this kind of richness and texture. A must have for lovers of both French opera and verismo.
on February 5, 2001
A little piece of French verissmo-- full of blood and guts: too full, really. This is one of the rare cases of an opera that needs to be longer. In one short act, the heroine crosses enemy lines to kill the leader of the invading army, comes back to a tenor who wrongly thinks she is stepping out on him, curses her while he is dying, at which point she does what any self-respecting operatic heroine does: goes insane.
One wonders how this powerhouse cast was assembled for such an off-the-beaten-track piece; better to just enjoy the fact that they did. No doubt the star-power of Horne is responsible for this, and she assumes the role with all the dramatic force you would expect. Besides breathing fire throughout, she gets to let out a highly theatrical crazed fit of laughter to signify going insane at the end. Domingo and Milnes offer superb support in spite of the fact that their roles are small (having them in these parts is like duck hunting with a nuclear warhead).
Massenet was full of Verdi when he wrote this- very dramatic and forceful. The three stars get a fantastic trio that is a real detatchable number and is full of Verdi's influence.
Highly enjoyable and highly recommendable, especially at this price. Besides, who will ever record this opera again? Besides Zaijek, who could sing it? Buy it now, before it disappears.
on February 20, 2006
It seems that this recording is already disappearing! Even if you don't like Massenet - odd thought - you should at least hear this! Horne is thrilling and her madness is soul piercing. Doming and Milnes speak for themselves. But it is the London Symphony under Henry Lewis' baton that make this recording the masterful work of art that it is. A stream of lush harmonies and atmosphere musical making. Lewis is another underrated musician. For me, the orchestration could well be one of the most beautiful of all Massenet's operas, especially the main themes and the nocturne between acts 1 and 2. Being so short there is not a superfluous note. Indeed, its very brevity might be its undoing. A lot happens in the 48 minutes of this musical drama . The only regret is that it ends so quickly. This will certainly never see another studio recording! Recording it live? .... like that's going to happen. I wonder if it even gets seen and heard in France. At the very least get a copy of La Navarraise and hear it. I have seen the recording on the opera shelves in several libraries. Thanks to RCA for having recorded it. A worthy endeavor.
I can only second the praise this magnetic 1975 recording has received here. La navarraise came my way when I asked a French-opera enthusiast which Massenet opera he thought was the best after Manon and Wether. He immediately suggested this one-act episode of blood and thunder, which lasts 48 min. that's short shrift in the CD era, but Marilyn Horne is in exceptional voice as the plucky Spanish heroine Anita, offering more tenderness and lightness of tone than I ever remembered from her. She makes the whole piece her own, and when you throw in some Spanish atmosphere, gunshots, a soldiers' chorus, and a lovely aria for Placido Domingo, the time flies by.
Massenet centers the entire score on an ominous fate motif that crops up everywhere, and it's very menacing and convincing. So is the orchestral interlude as Anita sneaks behind enemy lines. the plot is as black-and-white as a silent movie form the days of the Gish sisters, and no doubt the composer himself, who was a sophisticate, didn't believe for a minute that Anita would go mad from being accused of infidelity - in Belle Epogue Paris she'd expect a diamond lavalier. Nor is the essential dialogue sung between the principals always better than fill-in. Even so, there are thrills and spills enough to make this a real romp, something Massenet didn't exactly specialize in.
on May 21, 2012
I was looking for a recording of Esclarmonde and came upon this by accident. I am glad I found it, Horne, Domingo & Milnes are great. Massenet wrote some fiendishly difficult music, therefore, I understand why it is so rarely performed. We can thank Sutherland & Bonynge for the revival of many Massenet Operas.
Massenet was influenced by Wagner, but he still kept the French idiom. French verismo? I had glad this opera was revived and with such a superlative cast.
on February 25, 2011
"La Navarraise" is an electrifying 46 minutes of opera. Since it is so short, it doesn't waste any time and every minute is full of powerful music. Marilyn Horne shines as La Navarraise, a young girl who earns the money for her dowery by killing the enemy leader, only to go mad when her fiancee realizes what she has done. The mad scene may be the shortest in operatic history but it packs a wallop.Marilyn Horne's cackling laughter and her ear piercing scream send chills up and down your spine. This is a fine recording with an all-star cast in top form. I would love to see it performed, paired on a double bill with another one act opera-possibly Massenet's own "Therese". Now that would be an evening!!!
Massenet was nothing if not versatile and always had an eye open for the commercial main chance; here he leaps onto the verismo bandwagon with a blood-'n-guts melodrama derived from a French roman called "La cigarette". It is yet another example of French composers' preoccupation and love-affair with things Spanish and really not so dissimilar from "Carmen" in a number of ways - except that for all its virtues, "La Navarraise" is clearer a slighter and lesser work.
RCA assembled the starry cast standard in the 70's and unthinkable today to crack this operatic nut with a production sledgehammer: the analogue sound is amazingly vivid, everybody goes all out to provide maximum histrionics with lots of the r-rolling common to operas sung in acceptable international French and maximum emoting from Marilyn Horne, who manufactures a splendid bout of crazed hysterics to conclude the tragedy. She really has too beefy a sound to embody the Navarraise - on the other hand, we are talking about a girl who is spunky enough to inveigle herself into the presence of the Carlist commander and sink a knife into his chest, so I suppose a bit of chutzpah is in order. I love the way Horne interjects an unwritten "Voilà" into her narration of the stabbing, like a serial killer whipping the sheet off his latest victim. Henry Lewis and the LSO bang the bejasus out of the score without bothering too much to find subtleties; there is, however, a moment of calm in the pleasant but rather Iberian-generic Nocturne which is the interlude between acts and we even have time within a mere 48 minutes to have the obligatory soldiers' drinking song with castanets and Gabriel Bacquier camping it up, managing to coax some juice out of his aging baritone.
Domingo and Milnes are really mere bystanders to Horne's tour de force, but it's a pleasure to hear their firm voices rip into some swoons and snarls respectively. The opera starts with gunfire and a big, banging theme and finishes on the same note, having given us a whistle-stop tour of every operatic verismo cliché in the book, including the-rich-fathers-who-won't-listen-to-the-son-who-loves-a-poor-girl shtick.
If I sound breezily dismissive of it, I don't mean to imply that it isn't great fun and very well performed - but my goodness, it's formulaic. A masterpiece it ain't; good entertainment, it is.