Hélène and Nuit persane

Gavin Plumley
Opera Now (UK)

Helen of Troy has always been considered fair game for operatic exploitation, though Saint-Saëns’ 1904 opera is perhaps the least-well known, despite having been written for Nellie Melba. In the spirit as Samson et Dalila, Hélène is steeped in an Orientalist style – emphasised yet further by the inclusion of his equally occidental dramatic cantata Nuit persane on this new recording. Although based in the ancient world, Hélène and Nuit persane are infused with the perfume of late 19th century Paris, the afterglow of Wagnerism and the intoxication of Baudelaire’s heady visions. Saint-Saëns’ description of a poème lyrique is apposite for Hélène, a lyrical yet static work. The Australian Orchestra Victoria loveingly plays it here. Hushed serene strings, held in perfect poise by Guillaume Tourniaire, create a mellifluous background for Rosamund Illing in the title role and Steve Davislim as her Paris …. is convincingly warm.