Nick Fuller

Nick Fuller

Nicholas Fuller’s two-volume study of Halévy, co-written with Robert Letellier, was published by Cambridge Scholars last year. A journalist based in Canberra, he has reviewed for Limelight and written articles for MusicWeb International.

Articles by Nick Fuller

CD and Other Review

Review: Saint-Saëns: Proserpine

Proserpine is neither Classical nor a classic. She isn’t the queen of Hades but a 16th-century Italian courtesan who falls in love with the wrong man, tries to kill his fiancée, and stabs herself when he rejects her. Parisian audiences didn’t take her to their hearts. She appeared before them for a mere ten performances in 1887, briefly surfaced 12 years later, and then sank without trace until the Palazzetto Bru Zane, dedicated to the rediscovery of French Romantic opera, brought her back. Bru Zane’s standards are, as usual, impeccable. Ulf Schirmer’s conducting is lucid and elegant, and the recording stars the soprano Véronique Gens in the title role. I recently heard her sing Halévy’s Reine de Chypre in Paris, and was struck, as I am here, by her warm voice and insight into character. Proserpine itself isn’t easy to warm to on first or even second listening, but it’s interesting to hear a French composer grappling with Wagner. The melody lies in the orchestra – the vocal line is largely heightened recit, bar some exquisite ensembles in Act II. Contemporary audiences found the “advanced” composition difficult to grasp, but the orchestration, to a modern ear, sounds more like Gounod…

October 6, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Méhul: Uthal (Les Talens Lyriques/Rousset)

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul (1763–1817) is remembered today for the stirring Chant du Départ, the most popular French revolutionary anthem after the Marseillaise, but his operas and symphonies, acclaimed in their day, are now seldom performed.It’s a pity, because Uthal (1806) is an intriguing work, full of the devices the early Romantics loved: forests in the middle of the night, bards, warriors, the roaring sea, and the poetry of Ossian: a blind Gaelic poet from the third century – invented by an 18th-century Scotsman. Ossian’s day has long since passed, leaving in its wake Ingres’ paintings, Mendelssohn’s Fingal’s Cave, and Méhul’s opera. The story is a good excuse for Ossianic atmosphere. Malvina (Karine Deshayes) tries to bring peace to her warring husband Uthal (Yann Beuron) and father Larmor (Jean-Sébastien Bou). All three leads are in fine voice, but the finest music is reserved for the bards: the enchanting Hymne au Sommeil and the chant Près de Balva. The harp features prominently in both. Méhul’s most famous stroke was to score the opera without violins, restricting himself to violas and basses in order to give the work an austere feel. Berlioz thought the result was “melancholy, more wearisome than poetic”, while Grétry quipped,…

August 11, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Hérold: Le Pré aux Clercs (Orquestra Gulbenkian/McCreesh)

Bru Zane’s latest from the vault of neglected French opera suggests why Ferdinand Hérold was once regarded as the country’s greatest musician. Le Pré aux Clercs is a light counterpart to Les Huguenots. Despite duels and a death it ends happily. Certainly happier than for Hérold himself, who died of consumption a month after the premiere in 1832. Only his ballet La Fille Mal Gardée and the brilliant overture to Zampa survive today. A pity, because Pré is delightful: an elegant, refined score, mixing pathos and melancholy with wit and dancing rhythms. Listeners may know the once-famous overture and Isabelle’s virtuoso aria Jours de mon enfance (on which Strauss modelled Zerbinetta’s aria in Ariadne). Lesser-known highlights include a catchy syllabic trio (a definite earworm) and the romance Souvenirs du jeune âge. The largely Francophone cast is excellent, headed by Marie-Ève Munger, Marie Lenormand and the American Michael Spyres, a versatile and stylish tenor like his idol, the late Nicolai Gedda. The singers in the 1959 Benedetti recording may be more idiomatic, trained in the old Opéra-Comique theatre tradition. Since 2004, the relaunched Opéra-Comique’s mission has been to explore its heritage. This production, enthusiastically received in Paris and Wexford in 2015,…

June 8, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Meyerbeer in France (Hjordis Thebault)

These extracts from the German-born Jewish cosmopolite Meyerbeer’s four grand opéras and two opéras-comiques, recorded in Sofia, show his ability to combine German orchestration with Italian bel canto and French drama in a heady mixture that excites, moves and charms. The husband-and-wife team of soprano Hjördis Thébault and baritone Pierre-Yves Pruvot pass with flying colours challenging arias demanding both agility and dramatic heft; like Handel and Rossini before him, Meyerbeer wrote for the best singers in Europe. Thébault’s dark voice and early career as a mezzo give her the range to sing both the lovely Italianate Robert, toi que j’aime, with its harp triplets and haunting cor anglais accompaniment, and Sélika’s death under the poisonous manchineel tree, a scene for a dramatic soprano.   Although a baritone, Pruvot is as comfortable singing a bass part as he is the optional high notes in the Adamastor ballad or the wild O puissante magie.Conductor Didier Talpain has the sense of rhythm, texture and colour necessary for Meyerbeer, apparent in the brilliant chorus from Robert le Diable, the luminous entr’acte for strings from Dinorah, and the eerie conversation between two clarinets at the start of Le Prophète or the same opera’s famous Valse…

January 19, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Gounod: Cinq-Mars

The world’s first recording of an opera by the composer of Faust is a cause for celebration. Charles Gounod’s Cinq-Mars (1877) – about a 17th-century French nobleman who plots against Cardinal Richelieu – had a longer first run than Faust, was popular in the provinces – and then vanished, apart from the occasional recital of Nuit resplendissante by an enterprising soprano. Palazzetto Bru Zane, dedicated to the rediscovery of French musical heritage from 1780 to 1920, is fast becoming a rival for Opera Rara as a purveyor of luxury editions of little-known operas. This recording of a concert performance is a triumph of scholarship and makes a strong case for the opera. Like most of Gounod’s operas, the work exists in several versions, as the composer turned a historical opéra comique, with spoken dialogue, into a full-scale grand opéra, with sung recitatives and expanded numbers.  The libretto is undramatic, though based on a story which cries out for operatic adaptation: Cinq-Mars began as a protégé of Richelieu, became the favourite (read: lover) of Louis XIII, plotted with Louis’ queen and brother to overthrow Richelieu, and ended up on the scaffold. The French royals and Richelieu do not appear, while Cinq-Mars,…

October 21, 2016