Thursday 25 August 2016

Les délices Français: the Palazetto Bru Zane's 2016/17 season

Camille Saint-Saens
Camille Saint-Saens
The Palazetto Bru Zane's 2016/17 season continues the organisation's exploration of the byways of 19th century French opera, with some potential delights unearthed including a season devoted to that well-known unknown Camille Saint-Saens, as well as the less known Fernand la Tombelle, and Etienne-Nicolas Mehul, plus a chance to explore a forgotten grand opera by Fromental Halévy (Bizet's father-in-law).

It might seem crazy to have a season devoted to Camille Saint-Saens when his works are so well known. Except we know only a few of them, apart from Samson et Dalila, his operas barely get a look in. Bru Zane's programme includes a season in Venice when there is a chance to explore the composer's music for solo piano and piano duet, mélodies, the early Piano Quartet, and pieces for strings and piano. His 1887 opera Proserpine is receiving performances in Munich and in Versailles, with Ulf Schirmer conducting a cast including Veronique Gens in the title role. And 1877 opera Le timbre d'argent is being staged at the Opera Comique in Paris. Recordings to be released include Tassis Christoyannis and Jeff Cohen in the composer's complete songs.

More completely unknown is Fernand la Tombelle (1854-1928). Despite the lack of recognition his name gets, he wrote around 600 works, was a poet, photographer and painter. Yet in music he espoused neither Wagner nor the modernism of Debussy and so is regarded as academic. There will be a festival of his chamber music in Venice, as well as study days and various publications, to enable us to get to know his music more. Better known, yet still not known, is Etienne-Nicolas Mehul (1763-1817) whose pre-Romantic works were an important influence on early 19th century French composers. There will be a gala in London (at St John's Smith Square) when Jonathan Cohen conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and tenor Michael Spyres in a programme which includes samples of Mehul's operatic music. There will also be the first modern performance of Mehul's mass for the coronation of Napoleon. It wasn't performed (Napoleon preferred something else) and has never been given since, this is now remedied when Francois-Xavier Roth conducts Les Siecles in Laon, Bonn, Grenoble, Nimes and Versailles.

In Paris in 2017, the exploration continues with Fromental Halevy's five-act grand opera La Reine de Chypre which is being given in concert at the Theatre des Champs Elysees with Veronique Gens in the title role, and Herve Niquet conducting the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris. The work has not been performed for some 150 years, yet Donizetti's Caterina Cornaro re-cycled the plot.

Full details from the Palazetto Bru-Zane's website.

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