Charpentier Louise - excerpts
Louise, although composed by Gustave Charpentier during the late 1890s, was one of the first twentieth-century operas, its premiere at the Opera Comique taking place in April 1900. It seems that it is about to come back into fashion for its centenary next year, so this reissue of Nimbus’s transfer of this beloved ‘abridged version’ made by the composer in 1935 is timely.
At the very first moment, the spell works, with Georges Thill’s clarion voice calling up the hill in Montmartre for his lover. As can be seen in Abel Gance’s famous film of the opera, made in 1938, Thill was a trifle stiff as an actor, visually, but the power and passion of his vocal acting is heart-stopping. Until you’ve heard him you don’t know what heroic French tenors can be like.
Vallin’s voice was sometimes described as mezzo-soprano and she sang Carmen, Charlotte and other roles which call for sturdy low notes. Her version of ‘Depuis le jour’ is robust, with more urgency about it than many modern sopranos put into it. A comparison with Mary Garden’s late recordings of it (on Romophone, 8/94), reveal similar traits – Garden was one of the first to sing it, and a great favourite of Charpentier’s.
The scenes chosen here concentrate on Louise, Julien and Louise’s father – her mother and all those extras and crowds don’t get much of a hearing. The final scene, the terrible family row between Louise and her father – the first resounding blow struck for modern feminism in a modern opera – is the greatest moment in this recording, Vallin and Andre Pernet generating enough electricity to light up the Eiffel Tower.
The sound is very well reproduced – I compared this Nimbus CD with my old Columbia LPs of the set (a very fine transfer made in the 1950s) – and found the whole to be faithful. This adorable opera is heard to great advantage in Fournet’s complete recording on Philips, a set I would recommend unreservedly to all, but this historic glimpse of the opera, under the supervision of the composer, is one of the most delightful and important of all historic recordings.'