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Another oddity is Saint- Saëns’ Le Timbre d’argent (1864), a premiere recording that uses the composer’s final version of 1914 – he felt that the opera was worth persevering with, though it has never been a success. Here we have almost everything he wrote, including the recitatives that replaced the original dialogue. The libretto is by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, who had provided Faust for Gounod and later Les Contes d’Hoffmann for Offenbach, and the plot is suitably deranged: a destitute artist accepts a magic bell that, when rung, will provide riches. The catch? Someone close to him will drop dead each time. There is a sense of being dropped into Faust halfway through, just at the point when everything goes horribly wrong. Saint- Saëns’ music here is suitably overwrought and exciting, meaning, however, that it starts at a pitch that doesn’t leave it anywhere to go. Gounod paced his tragedy more adroitly, and Offenbach leavened his insane creation with humour. As bell-ringing Conrad, Edgaras Montvidas uses his fine-grained tenor to great effect. Tassis Christoyannis as Spriridion, who supplies the bell, yet again demonstrates the versatility of his elegant baritone. Hélène Guilmette takes lyric soprano honours, Jodie Devos the higher lines, and François-Xavier Roth’s conducting not just highlights the brilliance of the score but holds the tricky opera together. It has a suitably odd ending – it all turns out to have been a dream. Like an operatic version of Pam waking up to find Bobby in the shower in Dallas.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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