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RESPIGHI: Marie Victoire

spacer Kizart; Villar, Brück, Pauly, Bronk, Schümann; Chorus and Orchestra of Deutsche Oper Berlin; M. Jurowski. 
Libretto and translation. CPO 777 121-2 (3)

MarieVicCD

Ottorino Respighi's Marie Victoire dates from 1913. Playwright Edmond Guiraud (1877–1961) crafted a prolix French-language libretto from his own play. Despite encouragement from his senior colleague Alberto Franchetti, Respighi kept the work unperformed, as did (posthumously) his wife/executrix. A tale of jeopardized love set during the French Revolution, the four-act opera first got staged (in the composer's adoptive Rome) only in 2004, with Nelly Miricioiu in the title role. Its next major production — which CPO's release commemorates — occurred at Deutsche Oper Berlin in 2009. The live-sounding sessions date from April of that year.

In Act I, the Revolution parts the title heroine, a countess, from her husband, Maurice de Lanjallay. Arrested as a victim of 1794's Terror (Act II's prison scene lasts more than an hour, doubtless a challenge to any director), Marie, in a despairing stupor under sentence of death, falls prey to another condemned aristocrat, her husband's friend Clorivière, who manages to impregnate her in an offstage rape; even her pardon leaves her understandably downcast. Six years later, under the Consulate of Napoleon, she runs a hat shop under the name "Marie Victoire." She has a son whom she keeps isolated from Clorivière, who in his own despairing stupor is driven to attempt to kill Napoleon with a bomb. Subsequently Maurice shows up — he had taken refuge in North America — to learn that his wife has a son he didn't father: in yet another despairing stupor, Maurice (falsely) confesses to the assassination attempt. (By this point, at least one listener lost patience with these largely passive, put-upon characters.) A trial act follows, in which the de Lanjallays are reconciled; seeing that his old friend Maurice intends not to reveal his treachery and crime — but that a servant might — Clorivière steps forward, confesses and commits suicide. Curtain down.

It's worth slogging through the verbose, awkwardly translated program essay, as some important information and cultural context nestle within its thick underbrush — though the author seems unaware that Respighi's Bella Dormente nel Bosco has in fact been revived, beautifully, in the U.S. and stints on the process by which Marie Victoire eventually came to be performed. The action begins accompanied by harpsichord, one of several archaizing touches typical of Respighi's post-verismo approach here. The music encompasses some passages that might be exciting in the theater, but it remains more memorable for its often attractive orchestral coloration than for melodic content or striking individual numbers.

Michail Jurowski's orchestral and choral forces make a decent case for Marie Victoire's revival. Unfortunately, none of the three leads commands much tonal steadiness or is natively francophone, or adept in sounding linguistically fluent — two clear demerits. Takesha Meshé Kizart, an American soprano acclaimed in Germany, has a mettlesome voice with some striking, even glamorous tone color; what she lacks, on this showing, is technical security. Markus Brück (Maurice) sounds like an aging if creditable Kavalierbariton stuck in the wrong idiom. Tenor Germán Villar's braying Clorivière is pretty unpleasant throughout. The opera has twenty-four solo parts, as Guiraud's script is full of Loyal Retainers and Betraying Hussies, plus Incidental Victims and Servants. With only one singer taking multiple parts, the members of Deutsche Oper's international ensemble flesh out the unrewarding cameos as best they can. spacer

DAVID SHENGOLD

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Current Issue: April 2014 — VOL. 78, NO. 10