, January 2009
Ward Marston’s Naxos transfer restores all the bloom of John Culshaw’s original excellent sound-balance, including that on Mado Robin’s voice. This set is well worth having at budget price, more especially as the bonus is a trio of arias splendidly sung by famous French singers from the late 1920s and early 1930s. These include Miguel Villabella’s honeyed Prendre le dessin l’un bijou…Fantaisie aux divins mensonges (1931), Robert Couzinou’s ardent and very French Lakmé, ton doux regard se voile (1927), and another spectacular Bell Song from Leila Ben Sedira (1929). The transfers are again very real and vivid.
David's Review Corner
, February 2007
There was a time when Lakme enjoyed a place in the repertoire of many major
opera houses, yet around the world today the name of Leo Delibes hangs on his
two ballets, Coppelia and Sylvia. After early promise his student days were
unconvincing, and he was placed on the musical treadmill as organist and accompanist
so as to provide for his widowed mother. It was as a theatre rehearsal pianist
that he learned his craft as a composer of ballet and opera, and handed some
routine work by hard-pressed composers encouraged him to start work writing
operettas. From there he branched into ballet and eventually into 'serious'
opera, Le roi l'a dit composed in 1873 finally gaining him national recognition.
Yet it was only Lakme, completed ten years later, that really took him
into international circulation. The story of the hatred shown towards the English
in 19th century India, with Lakme's efforts to save Gerald from her father who
had sworn revenge for the two English soldiers who has desecrated sacred land.
That he has to return to his army regiment once she has brought him back to
health leaves her with the only option of suicide before her father discovers
her treachery. At the heart of the score comes the famous Bell Song and
that at least ensures the name of the opera remains well known. Joan Sutherland
managed to revive its fortunes with a high profile 1968 recording, but for the
genuine French performance you have return to this priceless 1951 version. It
featured Mado Robin who will never be equalled let alone surpassed in the leading
role. Her fast attractive fluttering vibrato fits the character of the role,
her ability at speed to perform vocal acrobatics being a source of joy and amazement.
She died at the tragically early age of 42, leaving this is an ideal testimony
to a unique talent. Surrounded by idiomatic performers with the lyric tenor
of Libero De Luca in the role of Gerald, surely on disc the most under-valued
singer of his time. Set beside the two lovers is the powerful bass voice of
Jean Borthayre, a chilling Nilakantha. At the helm was the Chief Conductor of
the Paris Opera and frequent guest at the Opera-Comique, Georges Sebastian,
the chorus in superb form. The engineers placed voices well forward, while keeping
clarity in the orchestra, and the transfer by Ward Marston is nothing short
of remarkable. The 1952 sound is so revitalised that it stands up well against
anything appearing today and certainly far more natural in quality. Put it right
at the top of your shopping list.