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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Part of a Royal Trilogy, 5 Oct 2004
This review is from: Chausson: King Arthur (Audio CD)
'Le Roi Artus' by Ernest Chausson and 'Ariane et Barbe-bleue' by Paul Dukas have always stood in the shadow of that towering masterpiece by Claude Debussy, 'Pelléas et Mélisande'. While a lot has been written about 'Pelléas' (and its debt to Tristan as well as its rejection of it) and 'Barbe-bleue' (and its debt to Pelléas as well as its clear individuality),'Arthus' seems crushed between them. Rarely staged, this CD gives us the chance to judge for ourselves. Without the visual references, one gets the impression that the philosophy of Chausson and Debussy was quite similar, but that their means differed: in 'Arthus' the game of musical motives and the counterpoint of color and orchestration are even more important (though one can hardly claim that orchestration is devoid in Pelléas and certainly Barbe-bleue).
That Chausson composed it was only natural: he was innured in Celtic literature, the Medieval arthurian writings of Chrétien de Troyes and off course of Wagner; but 'Arthus' turns resolutely to the future.
This opera is not (as are numerous countings of the legend) about Lancelot and Guinevere (with Arthur as a sympathetic, yet feeblish bystander), but gives priority to Arthus' imperilled mission of faith (which removes it from Tristans' Schopenhauerian pessimism). He remains impotent, true, but only when faced to the fact that life inevitably declines to death and that even good is capable of the worst. Arthus puts his mission in society above fortuitous circumstances.
Do not hesitate to try this opera out: as stated, it is part of a Triptych of French opera of the turn of the century and is a masterpiece on its own right.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fin de siècle Wagnerian epic, 5 Oct 2012
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Chausson: King Arthur (Audio CD)
I have been listening of late to two somewhat rare French operas from the late 19C, both of which share a Wagnerian harmonic and even thematic musical language: this and Magnard's "Guercoeur". I have to say that I find Chausson's opera the more entertaining, though neither quite lives up to being invariably absorbing for me and I cannot be quite as enthusiastic as some previous previewers.

In some ways, despite the excellence of the cast, the most striking passages are the purely instrumental preludes and interludes, which are highly atmospheric and evocative without being especially memorable melodically speaking. Overlaying the Wagnerian substructure - which even includes appearances of the "Tristan chord", there is frequent evidence of Debussy's specific, practical influence over the score but it never quite assumes the unique, translucent colouring of "Pelléas et Mélisande", remaining rooted in a more conventional Romantic world, both in terms of the music and the plot firmly based on Arthurian legend. Chausson was an avid reader of Celtic legend and concocted his own, sometimes slightly gauche libretto in which he depicts the lovers, Lancelot and "Genièvre" as faintly distasteful, their love being rather more tainted by a deviousness and selfishness, without the redeeming intensity which ennobles the love of Tristan and Isolde.

Parallels with that greater opera are many and they are not just musical. In many ways, the quality of the opera improves as it progresses and there is much in Act 3 which is highly effective, such as Guinevere's final scene in which she commits suicide by strangling herself with her own hair (a macabre, ironic twist - as it were - on an idea reminiscent of Mélisande).

The singing, playing and Jordan's conducting are first class. I am especially impressed by the power and noble beauty of Gino Quilico's baritone as Arthus, Teresa Zylis-Gara is pure, flexible and intense as the adulterous queen, Winbergh, despite occasionally unidiomatic French, is beefy and impassioned as Lancelot while Gilles Cachemaille, in his earlier days when he was more bass than baritone, puts in a very effective cameo appearance as Merlin. The smaller roles, often again reminiscent of Kurwenal, the Shepherd and the supporting parts in Berlioz's "Les Troyens" like Hylas and Iopas with their little showpiece arias, are mostly beautifully sung by such as Thierry Dran as the Ploughman and René Massis as Mordred (who plays a role in the plot equivalent to that of Melot in "Tristan"), although a more mellifluous tenor than that belonging to Gérard Friedmann would have made more of Lyonnel (a combined Kurwenal-Brangäne function).

Chausson laboured and agonised over this opera and I would like to think that greater acquaintance with its music will deepen my appreciation of it. Perhaps it merits a revival given the evident mastery of its craft and the coherence and appeal of its subject; meanwhile we are unlikely to get better advocacy of its merits on disc.
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Chausson: King Arthur
Chausson: King Arthur by Ernest Chausson (Audio CD - 1999)
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