Massenet : Roma1999 (Audio)
Director: Marco Guidarini
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I have a soft spot for Massenet and enjoy searching out his lesser known operas, but this, the last to be premiered in his lifetime, really sounds as if the bottom of the barrel is being well and truly scraped.
In recent years the Festival Massenet have explored some of the late operas with varying success - 'Amadis' was memorable, 'Cleopatre' less so even though it had its moments, and this may have prompted the festival at Martina Franca to explore further - this recording is of a live performance there. 'Roma', premiered in 1912, is based on a play that Massenet had seen 35 years earlier - and had been a vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt, who played the role of the blind grandmother Posthumia , who stabs her grand-daughter, a sinning vestal virgin to save her from being buried alive - I'm sure this play must have been dated even then, as an opera plot it looks back to Italian versions of Ancient Rome by Donizetti, Pacini and the like c. 1840 - what Massenet is doing with it in 1912
The musical invention is so thin it is almost non-existent - a prescription, rather, in how to cook up an opera and taking the line of least resistance throughout - Massenet sounds terminally exhausted and is unable to rise even to the melodramatic intervention of Posthumia in her Granddaughter's trial.
Only in the love music in the third act do things charge up a little - but it's pale stuff (self-quotations mostly) compared to 'Werther' or 'Manon' - or even as yet unrecorded Massenet operas such as 'Ariane' and 'Bacchus'.