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Penguin Guide, 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 bijouFantaisie 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 Denton
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.

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