University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

University of Hartford

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Rossini: Semiramide, Act Two; Massenet: La Navarraise

01/27/2019 1:00 pm
01/27/2019 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

The second act of Semiramide doesn't last quite as long in broadcast as the first. That allows sufficient time afterwards for me to air another entire opera in two very short acts, La Navarriase (1894) by Jules Massenet, which sets forth a tragic tale of love in wartime. The scene is the Basque Country in northern Spain at the time of a nineteenth-century Spanish internal conflict. Amid all the bloodshed of battle "The Girl from Navarre" commits a murder for the love of her soldier-boy.

Back in the 1980s we had two recordings of La Navarraise in our WWUH classical music record library. I chose the one on a single 1975 RCA Red Seal LP for broadcast on Sunday, September 18, 1988. It featured American mezzo Marilyn Horne as the girl and tenor Placido Domingo as the young soldier. Our station has acquired the Warner Classics compact disc release from last year that stars tenor Roberto Alagna as sergeant Araquil opposite soprano Aleksandra Kurzak as Anita. Alberto Veronesi directs the Opera Orchestra of New York and the New York Choral Ensemble.

Massenet's orchestral scoring is very colorful and calls for various special effects. This opera opened in London to much applause, but enthusiasm for it dwindled every time it reappeared on stage in the years leading up to World War One. The great American soprano Geraldine Ferrar had it revived one last time at the Met in 1921 as a vehicle for her vocal artistry. Like so many other Massenet operas, this one passed into oblivion thereafter. Now in the 21st century we get to rediscover the beauty and passion of Massenet's "Episode Lyrique," a little gem of the French operatic heritage.