University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Massenet: Esclarmonde

12/09/2018 1:00 pm
12/09/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Only a few of the many operas of Jules Massenet, like his Manon (1884) and Thais (1894) or Werther (1892) continue to hold the operatic stage to the present day. Consider Massenet's Le Cid (1885), a chivalric piece which remained popular before the First World War but thereafter faded into obscurity. (I have broadcast a recording of Le Cid a couple of times.)

Such also was the fate of Esclarmonde, a medieval romance for the lyric stage with exotic and magical elements. The premiere of Esclarmonde coincided with the opening of the 1889 Universal Exhibition in Paris, for which the Eiffel Tower had been specially constructed. Parisian audiences went into raptures over Esclarmonde. After a long run at the Opera Comique it did the rounds of Europe's great opera houses, but by the dawn of the twentieth century it was gone from the repertoire. Even the composer discouraged further performances of it, although it remained his personal favorite to the end.

The late great diva Joan Sutherland was responsible for the 1975 recorded revival of Esclarmonde in which she sang the title role. Her husband Richard Bonynge directed the National Philharmonic Orchestra of the UK and the John Alldis Choir. The British Decca/London record label released Esclarmonde on three stereo LPs. I last presented this recording on Sunday, May 15, 1988.