Jules Massenet lived when the main opera scene was reasonably firmly fixed on the style of Verdi and only those who composed in the Italian image were likely to be taken seriously. The Germans, with their love for Wagner, regarded his music as trifling, not to be taken seriously and certainly not art. The Viennese, after hearing his Manon performed by the Court Opera, applauded his art and even asked for a sequel to be written.
On this disc examples are selected from a number of his operas and oratorios.
To many Massenet did not fit the mould and was overshadowed by Debussy and Ravel. He enjoyed some success and, like Gounod, he re-established a natively French style that no other composer since Rameau had managed to do. One can judge for oneself how one would categorise his operatic compositions.
The aria tracks are taken from the oratorios and operas in chronological order.
Massenet’s writing contains a wealth of orchestral colour and melody, but the vocalist generally sings in the style of a recitative and any melody line is invariably absent. There is a belief that his setting of the French language has not been surpassed - which is understandable. The arias tend to drift, dreamlike, with a Puccini quality to some of them …
Rosamund Illing has a reputation as a fine and versatile singer and she doesn’t disappoint in her singing of Massenet ... Richard Bonynge needs no introduction: he conducts with panache and the orchestra does full justice to the rich scores.
The recording is excellent and the booklet contains all lyrics clearly set out ... Rodney Milnes’ notes on Massenet are detailed and promote the composer with considerable strength. An interesting study on Massenet by Graham Johnson is also included and, as he rightly says, every composer has his place and one day may be re-evaluated. ...
This is another well produced first class recording from Melba.