Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht

Fauré: Penelope

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Fauré: Penelope Review

by Stephen Eddins

Productions of Pénélope, Fauré's only true opera, have been infrequent, and on the basis of this recording of a live 1956 performance, it's not hard to see why. Dramatic music was clearly not the composer's forte; he responds to the story's events with the most clichéd gestures, which shed little psychological light on the situation or the characters, and if an opera can't do that, one has to ask what the point is in going to the trouble of writing one. When operatic music is brilliant purely as music, dramatic weakness is more forgivable, but that's not the case here. Fauré's music is extremely understated and rarely rises to the level of sustained lyrical arioso; he seems unable to trust himself to create romantic music to match the romantic story of Ulysses' dramatic return to his wife Pénélope. Much of the music seems like lyrical meandering that's not undergirded or driven by any larger musical or dramatic structure, and there are very few moments that have compelling, inherent musical interest. Régine Crespin and Raoul Jobin are in good voice as the lovers, but given so little to work with, it's hard for them to generate much enthusiasm. Orchestre National and Choeur de la R.T.F., conducted by Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht do their best to generate some heat, but the performance is generally ragged. The sound is better than might be expected for a live recording of the period. Only the most devoted Fauréophile is likely to take much pleasure in this release.

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