Hélène and Nuit persane

Barney Zwartz
Sunday Age (Australia)

Another ambitious project from pocket Australian label Melba; another triumph.

CEO Maria Vandamme found the score of the opera Saint-Saëns wrote for Australian soprano Nellie Melba in archives at Monte Carlo, where they performed it in 1904. The modern Melba forces – singers Rosamund Illing , Steve Davislim, Leanne Kenneally and Zan McKendree-Wright, Orchestra Victoria and conductor Guillaume Tourniaire – capture its lush romanticism. It pictures the first bliss of lovers Helen and Paris, who utterly discount the devastation they are told will follow their flight. Illing is particularly fine.

The opera is accompanied by a second, world premiere, Saint-Saëns’ Nuit Persane, a setting of six poems by Renaud, sung by Davislim and McKendree-Wright.

The two-Super Audio CD set is superbly presented and sounds marvellous.

Key track: The fifth scene in which the lovers are shown the agony of Troy in flames, but consider that a small price for their passion.