Ibert: Persée et Andromède
20th May 2004
Gramophone Editor’s Choice
Choc du Monde de la Musique
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962), an eminently French composer, always set his works under the sign of freedom: “I hate the word system, he said, and I don’t give tuppence for preconceived rules.” Perseus and Andromeda (Persée et Andromède) is the perfect illustration of this declaration.
Winning the first Grand Prix de Rome, in 19I9, Director of the Institut de France in Rome (1937-1958) and the Paris Opera House (I956-1957), Ibert very quickly attained international acclaim as a result of his very early compositions: La Ballade de la Geôle de Reading (I920), Stories for the piano (Histoires)-including Le Petit Ane Blanc (The Little White Donkey-1922)-and Escales (Ports of Call) for full orchestra (1922), where his basic qualities were already becoming marked: clarity of writing, elegance of style, confidence in his art coupled with refined, poetic sensitivity and a love for colours as subtle as they are captivating.
The later works, which should be all mentioned, only served to confirm the exceptional talent of the author of these first chefs-d’oeuvre whether concertos or symphonies, broad panoramas of instrumental and vocal music entertainment or ballet such as Diane de Poitiers, the Chevalier Errant (The Errant Knight) or La Licorne (The Unicorn).
Jacques Ibert composed six operatic works, each referring to a different and quite specific genre. The opera Perseus and Andromeda (I921) was followed by a farce, Angélique (1926), a comic opera, Le Roi d’Tuetot (1928), an opera-bouffe, Gonzague (1931), a musical drama, L’Aiglon (1937), and an operetta, Les Petites Cardinales (1938), these two latter works being written in collaboration with Arthur Honegger. Far from negating the common aesthetic feeling which Ibert himself defined, the variety of these works confirms them: “Reaction against the naturalist or truist theatre with its ensuing train of horrors; reaction against the absence of melodies, arias, duets, and ensembles in modern operas.”
Perseus and Andromeda, the second of his offerings from Rome, was first performed at the Paris Opera, then directed by Jacques Roche, on 15 May 1929. Fanny Heldy Villabella and André Pernet, conducted by Busser, played the leading roles. Nino’s spiritual libretto, inspired by Laforgue’s Moralités Légendaires gave the musicians the scope to give free rein to his irony. Nobody more than Ibert was suitable for drafting and interpreting the flights of fancy of Laforgue who, in Moralités, unravels the great ancient legends with infinite malice and spite. Here, neither Andromeda, nor the monstrous dragon, nor even less Perseus, are spared. Ibert thus contrives, throughout the two acts of this work, to make an amalgam of opera seria and opera buffa by the gripping and spontaneous way in which he musically recounts a story which, after all, is somewhat tragic.
ACT 1. Dawn will soon break over the desert island where Andromeda, condemned by the Olympians gods, is put under the guard of Cathos, a hideous monster secretly in love with his prisoner. The Sea Nymphs salute the breaking dawn and then call on the Furies who worry the pitiful monster until the com ing of day (Ballet). At last, a ray of sunlight wakes Andromeda up (Aria:”Encore un jour d’automne“-Another autumn day. Then the young girl, with her winning, languishing ways, tries to move Cathos to pity (Duet: “Si tu voulais au moins…” – If only you wanted). They then both play chess to pass the time away (The Monster’s Ballad: “Il Eétait une fois…“-Once upon a time).
ACT 2. Andromeda, sulking but charming, admires her reflection in a pool of water. She then laments her lot, troubled, full of unease yet hopeful, daunted in love (Aria: “Bientôt mes yeux…“-Oh soon my eyes). Suddenly, she thinks that she has seen a large seabird in the sky. It is Perseus, mounted on Pegasus, coming to free her. The conceited hero proudly introduces himself to Andromeda ( Aria: “Pour toi, jai traver-sé… – For you, I’ve crossed…). Cathos, furious and jealous, advances menacingly towards Perseus. Perseus, having brandished Medusa’s head in vain, draws his sword and, in spite of Andromeda’s pleas. severs the monster in two, which dies vowing his love for the young girl. She, much touched, refuses to follow Perseus who, more pretentious than ever, takes to the air again laughing about Andromeda and returning to singing his serenade. Andromeda, alone, bursts into sobs (Aria: “Pare, o pauure monstre“-Monster, poor monster). Suddenly, from the shell of the monster, arises a Prince, as beautiful as a summer’s day. He is easily the happiest of the three and it is the final love duet (“Andromede, merci..”-Oh Andromeda, thank you) which punctuates the far-off song of the Sea Nymphs.
JACQUES IBERT (1890–1962)
Persée et Andromède – Opéra en 2 Actes (40:34)
Or The Happiest Of The Three
An opera in 2 acts by Nino adapted from ” Moralités Légendaires” by Jules Laforgue
1. On entend les vagues égrener leur chapelet sur le rivage
2. Voici l’aube
3. La messagère de Junon s’avance vers le Monstre
4. Andromède rassurée se rendort
6. Il était une fois fois
7. Que le diable t’emporte!
8. Andromède arrive par le fond
9. Oh! Là-bas dans le ciel
10. Je t’attendais
11. Au mileau de la scène Persée rajuste son armure
12. Andromède court vers le promontoire
13. De la carapce du monstre surgit un Prince
Annick Massis, soprano – Andromède
Philippe Rouillon, bass-baritone – Cathos
Yann Beuron, tenor – Persée
Melanie Moussay, mezzo-soprano – Thétis
Marie Basson, Karen Perret, Armela Fortuna, Jing Li, Melanie Moussay, Sophie Ottenwelter – Les Néréides
La Ballade de la Geôle de Reading (25:36)
14. Il n’avait plus sa tunique écarlate (He did not wear his scarlet coat)
15. Cette nuit là, les corridors vides furent pleins de formes effrayantes (That night the empty corridors Were full of forms of Fear)
16. Le vent frais du matin commença à gémir (The moaning wind went wandering round)
17. Sarabande pour Dulcinée (4:02)
Total duration: 70:31
Recorded 8–9 October, 2001 (Ballade, Sarabande); 19–20 June, 2002 (Persée)
In the Salle Erasme du Palais de la Musique et des Congrès de Strasbourg
Recording Producer and Editor: Stephan Schellmann
Balance Engineer: Ulrich Schneider