More or less contemporary with Mozart, Grétry wrote more than fifty quintessentially Classical operas which enjoyed phenomenal success during his lifetime (this one was produced as far afield as New York in 1787). On the basis of this recording, made in 1974 in Brussels (Grétry was born in Liège but was dead by the time the state of Belgium was created, making him an honorary, if not actual, famous Belgian), it seems a shame that his work – or this comic reworking of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at any rate – has latterly been overlooked. The music, brightly performed by the Belgian Radio and Television Chamber Orchestra, is attractively melodic, if hardly profound, and the drama affords fantastical possibilities for an imaginative producer: a table decked with food appearing from nowhere, a magic moving picture in which the heroine watches her family after she has left them; and the transformation of the monstrous hero into a handsome young man. The chief attraction of this disc, however, is the casting of Mady Mesplé as the beauty Zémire. Her exemplary coloratura – ringingly clear and precise, if unnervingly fragile – is used to dazzling effect on the opera’s showstopper ‘La fauvetta avec ses petits’; and she is charming too, if a little passionless, in her ensemble pieces, especially the enchanting trio ‘Vieillons mes soeurs’ and her cheering closing scene with Roland Bufkens’s lyrical but ready and sometimes underpowered beast Azor. (Claire Wrathall)
André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry was the greatest French composer of opéra-comique in the eighteenth century. His librettist for Le Magnifique, Jean-Michel Sedaine, took a tale by La Fontaine and fashioned it into a compelling libretto. Grétry responded with an outstanding score, including one of the first programmatic overtures in musical history. His expressive love music, and extended preludes and postludes, add to the theatrical variety of this important and varied opera.
Gretry's "Richard Coeur De Lion" (1784), a rousing tale about the rescue of the crusader king Richard the Lionheart by his faithful troubadour Blondel, is a minor masterpiece, the greatest French opera comique of the Ancien Regime. Gretry wasn't an eighteenth century composer of the calibre of Mozart, Rameau or his contemporary Gluck, but his music seduced audiences with its charm and tunefulness and in this opera he provided a great deal more. Blondel's stirring aria of loyalty to his king, "O Richard, oh mon roi", was so powerful it was used as an anthem by the royalists in the 1790s and promptly banned by the revolutionary authorities. The romance "Une fievre brulante" (which recurs throughout the opera in a very early anticipation of the Wagnerian leitmotif) is a superb melody too, sentimental in the best sense of the word. The only aria most people today are likely to be familiar with is "Je crains de lui parler la nuit", the song the old countess sings to herself just before she is murdered in Tchaikovsky's "Queen of Spades", but there are also lively peasant dances and choruses, catchy duets and trios and a barnstorming finale in which King Richard's loyal followers overrun the castle where he is being held and free him from its dungeon.
Peter the Great was staged to celebrate the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg.
In order to understand the needs and sorrows of his people the young and dashing Tsar Peter decides to live and work incognito among the working classes. He falls in love with Catherine, a commoner's daughter and, still preserving his real identity, wants to marry her. (Operacritic.com)
The work reflects the tendency of an age of changes which was torn between a nostalgia for the times of the reign of Louis XIV and the cult of modernity and progress. Thus, it overlays on the barely- altered Jean Racine text of Andromaque (1667) a music already suffused with Romantic aspirations where literally unheard-of tones and accents clothe the passions of the Classical Greek age in a new guise. Never performed again after its initial production Andromaque today reveals all the modernity of the French school on the eve of the French Revolution and imposes itself without doubt as one of the most singular and unexpected links between the Baroque and Romanticism.