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Another French rarity is Camille Saint-Saëns’ Ascanio, an opera from 1890 that didn’t receive an overwhelming response at its premiere, and was last performed in 1921, three days after the composer’s death, after which it disappeared. Conductor Guillaume Tourniaire has constructed a full new version from Saint-Saëns’ different workings, resulting in seven tableaux over five acts. It is in many ways a magnificent beast, with fascinating and original orchestration making one realise why the composer was held in such high regard in his heyday. Alas it also makes one realise why the composer was considered a reactionary figure in his last decades. Although it takes the traditional grand opera form and pushes it into a more fluid format, it also sacrifices crowd-pleasing arias for a more ensemble-driven construction. So, beautiful though many moments are, it all becomes a little turgid at times, added to which it is too long. But Tourniaire’s conducting, recorded live, is fluid and elegant and his cast excellent. Bernard Richter’s graceful tenor is perfect for the title role, Jean- François Lapointe’s cultivated baritone is commanding as Benvenuto Cellini, and Eve-Maud Hubeaux, Karina Gauvin and Clémence Tilquin provide well-contrasted vocal ranges and timbres in the female roles.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Opera Now, 2019 - ©Rhinegold Publishing