Gounod : La Reina de Saba2001 (Audio)
Director: Manlio Benzi
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It is curious that the stunning popularity of Faust (1859) and, trailing a distant second, Roméo et Juliette (1867), should have deadened the appetite for, or curiosity about, Gounod's other operas outside France. Or, perhaps, their eclectic variety has proven bewildering -- the gothic La Nonne sanglante (libretto by Scribe, after Lewis' The Monk, 1854), cheek-by-jowl with the comique Le Médicin malgré lui (after Molière, 1858), or myth realized with deft lightness in Philémon et Baucis (1860) flanked by the local -- Provençal -- color and charm of Mireille (1864). Among them, apart from the bland late operas, Cinq Mars, Polyeucte, and Le tribut de Zamora, the most neglected has been La reine de Saba.
Its premiere at the Opéra de Paris, February 28, 1862, was an extended failure, given but 15 performances, explainable, perhaps, from disappointed expectations kindled by Faust's surefire success. Berlioz touched the nerve of the matter when, noting "poor Gounod...has just suffered an unparalleled fiascone," asked, "how can one support something which has neither bone nor muscle?" The book, by Faust's librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, after a tale by Gérard de Nerval (fancifully woven from laconic suggestions in the Old Testament books of I Kings and II Chronicles), revolves around a love triangle between Belkis, Queen of Sheba; King Solomon; and the master builder of Solomon's Temple, Adoniram (the Old Testament Hiram of Tyre) without giving it adequate dramatic exposure. The obligatory love duet between Belkis and Adoniram, for instance, which should have been the opera's high point, is soon interrupted, while the mellifluously tepid music Gounod supplied for it fails to clinch the situation. Adoniram, the mysterious, loner, artist-as-hero found favor neither with the public nor with Emperor Napoléon III, who allowed his dislike of the work to be generally known. An eclectic score wavers between Meyerbeerian brummagem and the merely perfunctory, relieved by occasional flashes of Gounod at his most ingratiating (e.g., the choral duet of Jewish girls and girls from Sheba that opens the third act, a couple numbers from the ballet [standing out above the insipid rest]). The march to which Belkis and Solomon make their first entrance is an amusing spinoff of the Coronation March in Meyerbeer's Le prophète, while the balletically fruity promenade accompanying Belkis provides a prototype parodied in several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. The upshot -- a certain sketchiness, dramatically and in terms of character, that the music fails to bind -- may hold one's interest, but it does not compel it.
Edited from the blog Answers, by Adrian Corelonis,Rovi