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New on the Malibran label are some important recordings of French opera, French singers and a Scottish-born soprano famed for her French repertoire. The latter is the remarkable Mary (Marie) Garden, heard here in recordings made between 1904-5 and 1928, including some surpassing rarities. Most valuable of all are three of Debussy’s Ariettes oubliées and a short extract from Pelléas et Mélisande (she created the latter role) accompanied by the composer himself; but there are also excerpts from some of Garden’s other most acclaimed assumptions in the works in which she specialised – Louise, Thaïs, Chérubin (another creation), Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame, Carmen, Hérodiade, La traviata and Alfano’s Risurrezione – plus a variety of folksongs, especially Scottish and Irish. Despite the ancient sound, the purity and magical lightness of Garden’s voice comes over, as well as her unique artistic personality.

The entirety of Massenet’s neglected but enjoyable Hérodiade can be heard in a stylish account with Dutch radio forces recorded in 1957 under the secure baton of Albert Wolff. Though the central casting – Andréa Guiot’s Salome, Mimi Aarden’s Hérodiade, Guy Fouché’s John the Baptist and Charles Cambon’s Herod – will ring few bells today beyond specialist circles, the result is an appreciable achievement that will delight Massenet fans with its impeccable fluency and finesse, while the sound – for its period – is pretty good.

Even more unusual is a super-rarity in the shape of Maître Pierre, an unfinished opera on the theme of Abélard and Héloïse that was put together from Gounod’s incomplete score by Saint- Saëns, Reynaldo Hahn and Massenet’s pupil Max d’Ollone, who conducts this 1951 French radio performance, interspersed with spoken narration. It gives us a good idea of the quality and surprising passion of the torso that the composer never finished. Géori Boué (Héloïse), Jacqueline Cauchard (Jacqueline), Henri Le Clézio (Abélard) and Michel Roux (Frère Bernard) take the central roles. Also included in the set are substantial extracts from the better known (but still rare) Molière-based comedy Le Médecin malgré lui in a 1959 performance under conductor Tony Aubin and starring Louis Musy, Freda Betti, Agnès Disney and Lina Dachary. It is also well worth encountering.

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Opera Now, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing