Jules Massenet composed 40 operas, of which just two -- Manon (1884) and Werther (1892) -- have gained a loose foothold in the standard operatic repertory. Likewise remembered fondly is Thaïs (1894), mainly through its "Meditation," which is a famous violin encore piece, and La Roi de Lahore (1877), a sub-repertory work that remains interesting for its subject and treatment. That is a pretty good showing for a nineteenth century French opera composer, not as impressive as Gounod, but far better than the fate of Massenet's teacher Ambroise Thomas, whose works aren't even revived in France. However, Massenet isn't known at all for oratorio, even though he composed four of them, including this work, the "mysterium" Ève (1875). This Arte Nova recording comes from a live performance in 1998 from Zlatá Koruna in the Czech Republic, led by Jean-Pierre Faber with the Three Nation Choir, Euregio Symphony Orchestra, and three soloists.
Ève certainly isn't an oratorio in the Baroque sense; it's really more like a short opera and the work that seems to have affected it the most is Gounod's slightly earlier opera Polyeucte. Polyeucte is a masterpiece, whereas Ève is not, but it nonetheless touches upon some interesting moments along its melodically driven and somewhat pretentious path. As in Thaïs, there is a single passage in Ève devoted to extraordinarily beautiful writing, and in this case, it is the initial duet between Adam and Ève when they first meet -- the harmony in this scene is so sumptuous as to be nearly impressionistic. The finale, "La Malédiction," is also notable for its trashy over-the-topness; the chorus hollers, fragments of the "Dies Irae" flitter around, and the orchestra goes into full-bore "classical thunder" mode as Adam and his former rib are cast out of the Garden of Eden.
Fast food chain McDonald's once offered a sandwich where "the hot is hot and the cold is cold," and that's rather like this recording. The loud is super loud, and the quiet, quiet -- rather unfortunate for listeners who prefer to set a comfortable listening level at one time and then not have to fool with it. The Three Nation Choir is a little uncoordinated and tends to shout in loud passages. Among the soloists, soprano Susanne Geb, in the title role, and baritone Armin Kolarczyk, as her paramour, have most of the music; Kolarczyk starts cold but warms up, whereas Geb starts warm but is obviously tired by the end -- her singing in the Epilogue is particularly unfortunate. For those who love nineteenth century French opera and are willing to put up with the inequities of this live performance, Arte Nova's Ève will do.