Australian soprano Rosamund Illing, accompanied by Richard Bonynge leading the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, presents a program of almost entirely obscure arias by Jules Massenet; the only pieces that might be familiar to audiences are “Il est doux, il est bon” from Hérodiade and “Pleurez, mes yeux” from Le Cid.
The CD includes mostly selections from operas, but also arias from several almost completely forgotten oratorios: Marie Magdalene, La Vierge, and Eve, which perhaps not surprisingly, are musically indistinguishable from the secular pieces. Massenet was certainly drawn to subjects where spiritual and carnal passions were commingled; witness Thaïs and Hérodiade, for instance. What these arias have in common is the sensuality that characterizes Massenet’s best work. “Rêve infini!” from La Vierge, is an evocation of paradise with a practically Wagnerian intensity. The Infanta’s aria from Le Cid, “Plus de tourments,” is an uncommonly lighthearted piece for the composer and is especially charming and memorable.
The CD also includes three excerpts from Ariane that have a level of lyrical expressivity that makes the listener wonder why the work is so little known.
Soprano Rosamund Illing sings with warmth, purity, and depth of feeling… she does a highly credible job of bringing this obscure repertoire to life with urgent commitment and lovely tone. Richard Bonynge, leading the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, is an ideally responsive accompanist.