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Massenet jumped onto the verismo bandwagon with the one-act La Navarraise, premiered at Covent Garden in 1894; I like the fact that he missed taking a curtain call and being presented to the future Edward VII because he was outside having a smoke, no doubt to calm his nerves. (Whoops!) No need anyway, as the evening was a triumph. Since then the opera’s fortunes have slumped – Operabase lists no performances worldwide in the recent past or the future – so a new recording is a welcome addition to the catalogue. It’s a sturdy reading from conductor Alberto Veronesi, who confidently leads the way through the melée of instrumentation; much percussion, Spanish rhythms and castanets, and a bell-laden finale. It is enjoyable, but never really quite takes flight as an opera, though the cast works hard. Aleksandra Kurzak takes the title role with aplomb, her soprano having gained in richness over the last few years. Roberto Alagna’s tenor is a bit worn as Araquil, the open top notes sounding coarse. So it remains a collector’s item, one for completists. And if you are an aficionado of previous recordings you will no doubt want to know about Kurzak’s final manic cackling as the heroine descends into madness: it’s better than Marilyn Horne’s, who in a rare moment of understatement just sounds as though she’s run a tap a little too hot, but not as good as Lucia Popp’s, which is positively traumatising.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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