Jan 12, 2009

Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Cluytens 1954

Don't you people think it's been way too long since I last wrote about Les Pêcheurs de Perles? Well, I had the same thought.

A reader happened to mention, a few days ago, another CD recording of Les Pêcheurs that I own and still haven't commented on this blog [1].

Leïla - Martha Angelici
Nadir - Henri Legay
Zurga - Michel Dens
Nourabad - Louis Noguera
Choeur et orchestre de l'Opéra Comique
Enregistré au Palais de la Mutualité à Paris en juin 1954
1893 version (édition Choudens)

It appears to me I also have never mentioned here why older recordings of this opera are based on the revised version of 1893 while the new ones almost always are based on the original score (for more about the differences between those versions, see here) [2].

It's a fascinating story indeed, in Bizet's fascinating life (I'm currently on page 200 of the 800 pages biography of Hervé Lacombe and enjoying every line of it). Somehow the original partition of 1863 was lost, somewhere, between the initial run (18 performances) and the revival in 1893 [3], and nobody could ever find it. So all the early XXth century performances of Les Pêcheurs were played with the revised version of Benjamin Godard, from 1893 (édition Choudens).
Then, somehow in 1975, the original vocal score emerged in an auction sale in Paris and voilà, as Americans say (though nobody in France actually does).

Anyway, enough with the procrastination, back to the point: the review of this recording.
In the fifties and sixties in France, André Cluytens and Pierre Dervaux may not have been in the likes of Toscanini or Karajan, but they did insure the transmission of the French repertoire in a way few did after them (Michel Plasson and Sylvain Cambreling both failed though their intentions were noble).
Cluytens and Dervaux were especially very methodical in recording the masterpieces of the second half of the XIXth century, although inevitably some were forgotten. They both recorded Les Pêcheurs, in the 1893 version, Cluytens with this recording in 1954, Dervaux in 1961.
Their conduction is quite similar, and is supported by a great chorus. Overall, the musical execution puts both of them on the top of the existing recordings list.

The real difference between the two is the cast, and, despite obvious preferences, I reckon this 1954 recording is excellent as well. Michel Dens makes for a very good Zurga, while Henry Legay is also a fine Nadir. Martha Angelici is not well, brilliant or anything, but then again, it seems there where no decent French sopranos at the time.

Bought on sales last April a few days before the Met shop closed for redesigning, for something like 8$ (how could I have said no?)
although I had this conversation with several readers already

Although the opera was played again in Paris in 1889 in Italian (go figure)

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