Hélène and Nuit persane

Bob Levi
Positive Feedback Online (USA)


Written for Diva Dame Nellie Melba the namesake of Melba Recordings and premiered in 1904, this melodious and deliciously romantic one act opera is a Saint-Saëns gem! It is an homage to love, feminine beauty, desire, and all things exotic in ancient Greece. How wonderful it is that Melba has restored this operatic feast to us once again… the music is sumptuous and melodic and very sophisticated. Saint-Saëns was in top form and you will be stunned by the richness of the score and the lovely singing.

The star struck lovers of Hélène and Pâris are sung by beautiful young soprano Rosamund Illing and tenor Steve Davislim. Both sing with youthful sweetness and confidence. Illing has quite a big voice, but manages to finesse the notes like a lyric soprano. I fell in love just listening to her. Davislim reminds me of the late Jerry Hadley.

He offers true expression and ardour in his voice with much sweetness and delicacy. It is conducted by a brilliant young French conductor, Guillaume Tourniaire, who has Saint-Saëns perfectly in his musical sights. He is quite agile and maintains an exciting tempo.

The opera comes with a 100 page colour booklet with tons of notes, information, and complete libretti nicely illustrated. The choral singing is magical and angelic. The Belle Époque Chorus is always on key and very precise ala Robert Shaw. Supporting vocals by Zan McKendree-Wright and Leanne Kenneally were sensational and dynamic. I have never heard this opera before and this top cast takes it from obscurity to a war horse.

The second offering premiered in 1897 and is a sumptuous orchestration of a decadent Armand Renaud poem. Nuit Persane is divided into four parts and includes harem visitations, loves tribulations, an amazing dream, with all finally lost in the passion of the whirling dervishes. It’s very, very exotic even for Saint-Saëns though musically delightful with very sexy dialogue. I enjoyed this tone poem immensely.

Melba Recordings has come to our rescue and brought us rare Saint-Saëns masterpieces and glorious performances yielding sheer musical pleasure. The unearthing of Hélène and the tone poem Nuit Persane are true delights for the ears. They combine superb singing and conducting from start to finish. If you have a love for Saint-Saëns like me, these are a must own. Recorded in three formats, one is sure to ring your bell.

Well done Melba Recordings and highly recommended.