Hélène and Nuit persane

Piers Burton-Page
International Record Review (UK)

The face that launched a thousand ships, belonging to a certain Helen, usually called ‘of Troy’ because of the war in which those ships participated,  … can also lay claim to the launch of several operas. Gluck, Strauss, Tippett, maybe even Arrigo Boito might spring to mind – but not, until now, or not immediately anyway, Saint-Saëns. His one-act Hélène was written as a vehicle for another starry Helen, Helen Porter Mitchell, better known as Nellie Melba, and was first staged at the Monte Carlo opera in 1904 …

Now here it is on disc, I think for the first time; and what’s more it is given the de luxe treatment: packaged in hard covers, with copious annotation, some nice Gustave Moreau-ish illustrations, and a full bilingual libretto. Recording quality is clear and spacious, Orchestra Victoria is excellent … Rosamund Illing, who in taking the Melba role as the heroine inevitably has the lion’s share, manages a fine sustained tone in her brief more passionate outbursts and an agreeable cantilena when being more reflective … Steve Davislim (Paris) is a current tenor of choice, and one can see why: he has a fine ring to his top notes, and the two duets he shares with his Spartan squeeze, one mid-opera and one at the end, are tastefully done. This new release makes the best possible case for the opera … it is of very high quality.

… as the present release demonstrates, it has sufficient other virtues to merit a staged revival, either on its own or, better, as part of a suitable double-bill. Opera world, are you listening?