Monday, 14 August 2017

Remarkable double portrait: Echo and Espoir from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury

Michael Spyres - Espoir - Opera Rara
Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Halevy, Auber, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Herold, Weber/Berlioz; Joyce El-Khoury, Michael Spyres, The Hallé, Carlo Rizzi; Opera Rara
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 12 2017
Star rating: 5.0

French and Italian repertoire intertwine in two fascinating discs exploring the music sung by two major French singers

This pair of discs from Opera Rara are available separately, but the repertoire is very much linked and the two form a pair exploring the music associated with two major French singers of the early to mid-19th century, Gilbert-Louis Duprez and Julie Dorus-Gras. Both discs feature Carlo Rizzi and the Hallé. Espoir features tenor Michael Spyres in arias from operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Halévy, Verdi Auber, and Berlioz, whilst Echo features soprano Joyce El-Khoury in arias from operas by Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Weber/Berlioz, Rossini, Hérold, and Berlioz, with each disc featuring the two singers in duet .

Joyce El-Khoury - Echo - Opera Rara
Gilbert-Louis Duprez (1806-1896) is best known for his uses of powerful chest-voice top C's in Rossini's Guillaume Tell (something Rossini deplored) rather than the voix mixte which had been used previously. But his repertoire was far wider than that, and these discs allow us to get to know Duprez alongside his colleague at the Paris Opéra, Julie Dorus-Gras (1805-1896). Their appearances together included Rossini's Guillaume Tell, Halévy's Guido et Ginévra and Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini. In a sense we already know their voices, as Spyres and El-Khoury incarnated Duprez and Dorus-Gras when they recorded Donizetti's Les Martyrs for Opera Rara (see my review), an opera which Duprez and Dorus-Gras premiered.

These discs provide valuable background to Opera Rara's explorations of Donizetti's French repertoire, giving us the opportunity to hear recordings of arias from operas current at the time, sung by his favoured singers.

In fact, Duprez had an Italian sojourn, one during which his voice seems to have darkened and grown heavier. He started out singing Rodrigo from Rossini's Otello, but the later roles which Donizetti wrote for him including Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor and the roles in Les Martyrs and La Favourite show how it changed, and when Duprez returned to Paris he was singing the title role in Otello. Dorus-Gras seems to have had a highly flexible technique, she was known for singing both the soprano roles in Meyerbeer's Robert le diable, and she was highly commended by Berlioz. She and Duprez sang in the premiere of Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini but this did not go entirely well and Duprez only sang in three performances. More intriguingly, when Dorus-Gras sang the title role in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in London, the conductor was Berlioz!

Michael Spyres gives us arias from Rossini's Otello (Otello's entrance aria, sung in French), Donizetti's Rosamoonda d'Inghilterra, Verdi's Jerusalem, Donizetti's Dom Sebastien, Auber's Le Lac de fees, Donizetti's La Favorite, and Halevy's La Reine de Chypre. Joyce El-Khoury gives us arias from Meyerbeer's Robert le diable, Berlioz's adaptation of Weber's Le Freyschutz, Rossini's Guillaume Tell, Herold's Le Pre aux clercs, and Halevy's La Juive.

Some operas spread, inevitably, across the two disc, both singers perform arias from Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini, and we get arias and duets from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and Halevy's Guido et Ginevra.

Michael Spyres sings with his familiar combination of virility, power and flexibility, and it is fascinating to hear him in the Italian and the French repertoire side by side, making us aware of how the one influenced the other even though there were significant differences. It is not that he makes the music seem effortless, but that he sings with such style. The high tessitura (the roles sit high, it is not just the top C's, D's and (I think) E's) seems to suit his voice and his integrates the various registers with stylish aplomb. We have no way of knowing how the voices of the two original singers sounded, all we can do is judge how the music seems to fit their successors. Joyce El-Khoury, in a note in the booklet, talks about how the vocal demands of the music seems to fit her voice. She has a very fascinating and distinctive voice, which quite a vibrant yet tight vibrato which brings colour to the voice. This is combined with a strong technique, which sometimes makes for a surprising mix of vibrant colour and mobility, though I have to confess that I thought the cast of her voice rather suited the French items best.

Carlo Rizzi and the Hallé provide admirable support. The Paris Opera orchestra was one of significant size and reputation, so it is good to have a full size band performing in this music. The orchestra certainly seem to be developing quite a feel for the style of this music.

These recitals work on a number of levels, the repertoire of the two discs intertwining but strong enough for each to stand separately, the historical references completely fascinating but not essential for the enjoyment of the discs. There is enough variety of repertoire on each that, even if you are not completely sold on French grand opera, there is plenty to enjoy. The result is a remarkable multiple-portrait, recital discs from two stylish singers but also portraits of their historical forbears.

Echo (Joyce El-Khoury)
Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor, ‘Regnava nel silenzio’
Meyerbeer, Robert le diable, ‘Robert, toi que j’aime’
Weber/Berlioz, Le Freyschütz, ‘Hélas! sans le revoir’
Rossini, Guillaume Tell, ‘Ils s’éloignent enfin’
Meyerbeer, Robert le diable, ‘Va, dit-elle, va, mon enfant’
Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor, ‘Lucia, perdona...’
Hérold, Le Pré aux clercs, ‘Jours de mon enfance’
Meyerbeer, Robert le diable, ‘Quand je quittai la Normandie’
Halévy, La Juive, ‘Assez longtemps la crainte et la tristesse’
Berlioz, Benvenuto Cellini, ‘Les belles fleurs’

Espoir (Michael Spyres)
Rossini, Othello, ‘Venise, ô ma patrie’
Donizetti, Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, ‘Dopo i lauri di vittoria’
Halévy, Guido et Ginévra, ‘Dans ces lieux’
Verdi, Jérusalem, ‘L’infamie! prenez ma vie!’
Halévy, Guido et Ginévra, ‘Tu seras donc pour moi’
Donizetti, Dom Sébastien, ‘Seul sur la terre’
Auber, Le Lac des fées, ‘Ils s’éloignent! je reste’
Berlioz, Benvenuto Cellini, ‘Seul pour lutter’
Donizetti, La Favorite, ‘La maîtresse du Roi...’
Halévy, La Reine de Chypre, ‘De mes aïeux ombres sacrées’
Donizetti, Lucia di Lammermoor, ‘Tombe degli avi miei’

Joyce El-Khoury (soprano)
Michael Spyres (tenor)
The Hallé
Carlo Rizzi (conductor)
Recorded in The Stoller Hall, Chetham's School of Music, Manchester, February 2017
OPERA RARA ORR251 & ORR252 2CDs (Available separately)
Available from the Opera Rara website, and  on general release in September 2017

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