Composed late in life (1907), Massenet’s compact “drame musical” tells of a delicate love triangle at the time of the French Revolution, the upheavals of which exact a grisly fate: despite the romantic entreaties of an eligible admirer, Thérèse loyally follows her husband to the guillotine. Lasting a mere hour and a quarter, the opera has never really caught on, but with this excellent recording and an forthcoming production at the Wexford Festival in October, Thérèse’s fortunes are on the rise.
The recording, with a predominantly francophone cast (a big plus), was made last year at Radio France’s festival in Montpellier and comes in a book-style presentation, with libretto and five good essays, all translated into English. While conveying a backdrop of revolutionary tension, the music is predominantly in Massenet’s lyrical style – simply and sensitively scented, rather than soppy – with occasional backward glances to pre-revolutionary idioms. It may not be top-drawer Massenet, but it exerts an undeniable charm.
Altinoglu conducts with idiomatic flair, varying the pace in a way that points up the score’s strengths. Gubisch’s contralto-ish Thérèse sounds a touch matronly, but the tender husband-and-wife duets with Dupuis’s mesmerising André (the baritone, here stealing the show) make for compulsive listening, with the tenor (Castronovo) reduced to a supporting role. The real test of this CD is that it makes you want to encounter Thérèse on stage: roll on Wexford.
Nora Gubisch, Etienne Dupuis, Charles Castronovo, Alain Altinoglu
(Radio France/Palazzetto Bru Zane)