David: Herculanum / Niquet, Brussels Philharmonic
Félicien David was already famous through his ‘ode-symphonie’ Le Désert (1844) when his opera Herculanum was first staged at the Paris Opéra in 1859. This ambitious work, later to gain him entrance to the Opéra-Comique and the Institut de France, also played a part in earning him the Légion d’Honneur. Leaving behind the Middle Eastern inflections of his earlier scores, Herculanum is a remarkably strong composition (vast, intensely dramatic scenes), impressive in the diversity of its style (including Verdian influences) and its vocal variety (including the rare coloratura contralto voice often used by Rossini). There is also a fantastic vein, as made popular by Boieldieu (La Dame blanche, 1825) and Meyerbeer (Robert le Diable, 1831); but the supernatural is used here to serve an openly stated mysticism: the eruption of Vesuvius brings a spectacular, cataclysmic ending, signifying the decadence of the ancient world and the triumph of Christianity.
Anyone interested in this period of operatic history will find the release fascinating. There’s much to enjoy, too, from the singers, who by and large make as eloquent a case for the piece as one could reasonably imagine. Véronique Gens is in fine, classy form as Lilia, and is well matched by Edgaras Montvidas as Hélios. Karine Deshayes is terrific as Olympia, too, although might perhaps have offered more in the way of imperious hauteur. The lower-voiced men are perhaps a touch disappointing, with Nicolas Courjal a rather too avuncular Satan. Hervé Niquet conducts with spirit, and the orchestra and chorus sing and play with commitment.
Release Date: September 25, 2015
Catalog Number: ES1020
Label: Ediciones Singulares
Number of Discs: 2
Composer: Félicien César David
Conductor: Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble: Brussels Philharmonic, Flemish Radio Choir
Performer: Veronique Gens, Karine DeShayes, Edgaras Montvidas, Nicolas Courjal, Julien Véronèse
Composer: Félicien David
Ensemble: Brussels Philharmonic, Flemish Radio Choir
Performer: Véronique Gens (Soprano), Karine Deshayes (Mezzo Soprano), Edgaras Montvidas (Tenor), Nicolas Courjal (Bass), Julien Véronèse (Bass-Baritone)
Conductor: Hervé NIquet