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Festival Classica de Saint-Lambert. Église St. Lambert United Church. 01-VI-2013. Théodore Dubois (1837-1924) : Aben-Hamet, opéra en quatre actes, livret de Léonce Détroyat et A. De Lauzières. Version concertante. Orchestration : Vincent Boyer. Avec : Nicolas Rivenq, Aben-Hamet ; Marc Boucher, Le Duc de Santa-Fé ; Julie Fuchs, Bianca ; Pascale Beaudin, Alfaïma ; Nora Sourouzian, Zulema. L’Orchestre de chambre de la Montérégie. Chœur du Festival Classica. Chef de chœurs : Martin Dagenais. Direction : Jean-Claude Malgoire.
Théodore Dubois left only a small legacy to future generations of composers. His name has almost entirely disappeared from history and his work takes up very little space in encyclopedias and music textbooks.
The Festival Classica in Saint-Lambert can be proud of hosting the premiere of Aben-Hamet in its original French version. This opera was first mounted in 1884 in Italian at the Théâtre-Italien. It is a special opera, written for baritone Victor Maurel: thus, the leading role is not sung by a tenor. The opera does not eclipse the more famous Carmen, Manon, Faust, Werther, or Les Contes d’Hoffmann. Nonetheless, the work deserves to be played in public and have a life onstage. This is how it can properly be enjoyed.
The singers were very good. Mezzo-soprano Nora Sourouzian sang Zulema, Aben-Hamet’s mother. Zulema is the character who most accomplishes the dictates of fate: she is driven by her desire for revenge in act 1 (she wants to take back Granada) and by fear (of losing her son at war) in act 2. In act 3, she realizes that her dear son is going away from her because of his love for Bianca. And, in act 4, the audience sees through her the scene of a ravaged battlefield, and the pain of a tearful mother, weeping over her son’s death. Nora Sourouzian’s tone is warm, her voice powerful, with a secure foundation. At her arrival upon Granada in act 2, her duo with Alfaïma, an air of Orientalist hues decorated with arabesques, was especially beautiful. Soprano Pascale Beaudin as Alfaïma played her role as a young girl perfectly, adopted and brought up by Zulema. She is in love with Aben-Hamet, but the latter views her only as a beloved sister. Alfaïma’s arioso persuading Aben-Hamet to go to Granada deserves especially to be remembered. The role is in part reminiscent of Carmen’s Micaëla.
Baritone Nicolas Rivenq flawlessly fills out the impressive part of Aben-Hamet, the drama’s hero. The character is at the same time epic and lyrical, and it is obvious why the part has originally been made for a great Verdian baritone. Nicolas Rivenq triumphs here, and the same can be said of baritone March Boucher, as the Duc de Santa-Fé.
The young soprano Julie Fuchs is impressive as Bianca. Her tone is rich and her voice bold. She surrenders fully to the fantastic but honestly felt love duo with Aben-Hamet. Her voice is flexible, and she excels at pianissimos. Her very presence onstage is outstanding.
It would have been easy to follow the sinuous path of fin-de-siecle Orientalism. Each act begins with a prelude that introduces the scene. The ballet in act 2 is a show in itself, the dancing perfectly fitted to the dramatic thrust of the work. Act 4 starts with l’Orage (the Storm), another vivid symphonic episode, which prefigures the coming catastrophe.
This revival is mostly due to the persistence of Jean-Claude Malgoire. It seems obvious that this work would still be buried deep in the Opera library if not for the mission of this passionate researcher and tireless musicologist to have all music-lovers acknowledge its quality. He was the very instigator of this revival. This opera needs only a big enough theater to soar. It is a work that should be discovered at all costs.