Graham Williams
star onstar onstar onstar on

This delightful collection of Massenet’s Songs and Arias was first issued on CD in 1998 and Melba has now remastered it for SACD and added surround channels…

Two songs that Massenet originally wrote for voice and piano and subsequently orchestrated open the disc, while the next four tracks present arias from his oratorios Marie Magdeleine, Eve and La Vierge. The remainder of the disc is devoted to twelve arias from the operas Hérodiade, Le Cid, Sappho, Grisélidis, Chérubin and Ariane presented here in the chronological order of their composition.

From this list of works it will be clear that this is a disc of rarities, and lovers of Massenet’s highly perfumed music will leap at the opportunity to acquire these pieces in performances as finely sung as here. Of course, Massenet wrote many of these works with particular famous singers of the time in mind including Lucy Arbell, Emma Calvé and Mary Garden … Rosamund Illing … uses her creamy soprano to excellent effect and her singing is a model of poise and beauty throughout. The accompaniments by the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra conducted by Richard Bonynge, incomparable in this style of music, are an additional pleasure to be savoured.

The majority of the pieces on the disc are slow moving, and perhaps exposure to 76 minutes of the cloying sweetness of Massenet’s music could be too much of a good thing for some listeners. I must confess, however, that each time I have started listening to it, I have been unable to stop!

The disc is presented in a de luxe packaging worthy of the music. A fifty-eight-page booklet contains many full colour photographs and illustrations, including some of the original posters for the operas, French/English texts and two informative essays, one by Graham Johnson, the other by Rodney Milnes written in his usual entertaining and combative style.

Recommended to all with a musical sweet tooth.

Performance ****
Sonics ****