Maria Vandamme has always been a creative and highly individual producer. With Melba Recordings she has scaled the heights of creativity. From the first CD of rarely heard Massenet songs, to a recording of the songs of Peter Dawson. From a young pianist playing Rachmaninov to a CD featuring the almost unknown, let alone heard, ophicleide. There’s a recording of a ballet to accompany the performance of an opera and, of course, there’s Australia first complete Ring Cycle which just happens to be the world’s first Ring on SACD.
Melba Recordings’ most recent release is the world premiere of an opera by Camille Saint-Saëns, Hélène. The title role was written for Australia’s first Diva, Dame Nellie Melba. In this role Rosamund Illing is in her element, capturing the youth and beauty of this ‘ideal’ woman and languishing in some of the most romantic music written by the composer. Illing is ably supported by one of this country’s finest tenors, Steve Davislim. His Pâris is ardent and strong and he floats the musical line like a silvery thread. Pallas Athena and Venus are sung by Zan McKendree-Wright and Leanne Kenneally’s warm soprano imbues Venus with the allure she is meant to have.
Musical accompaniment is well provided by the Belle Époque Chorus and Orchestra Victoria conducted by Guillaume Tourniaire. Tourniaire, obviously relishing this rare opportunity to record a world premiere of a forgotten opera, keeps the pace moving, allowing all romantic sentiment, though never wallowing in syrupy schmaltz.
Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène has for too long been the most accessible operatic version of this long-held story of love; luckily we can now move on to a performance richer and ultimately more involving.
This recording also features, as a bonus Saint-Saëns Nuit Persane. This is again, a well recorded performance of a choral work worthy of any of the many written by this master of the musical line and orchestration.