This week rather than the usual full-length work “Trove Thursday” offers instead a short yet potent opera: Massenet’s La Navarraise in a live performance featuring Rita Gorr as Anita and George Shirley as Araquil.
The composer’s veristic épisode lyrique in two short acts premiered at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1894, the same year as the first performance of Thaïs and just two years after Werther. London assembled a starry cast which included Emma Calvé and Pol Plançon both of whom were also featured in the Met premiere the following year where it was initially paired with Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice!
During that first season, the Met also variously presented the Massenet with two acts of Les Pêcheurs de Perles, the first three acts of Aïda or an entire Trovatore. It then disappeared for twenty-five years until it was revived in 1921 for Geraldine Farrar and was presented on occasion on a double-bill with Leoni’s L’Oracolo starring, of course, Antonio Scotti as Cim-Fen.
However, Navarraise eventually fell out of favor until the mid-1970s when surprisingly two studio recordings appeared nearly simultaneously. One featuring Marilyn Horne, Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes remains in print, while the more acclaimed CBS version with the unexpected Lucia Popp in the title role alongside Alain Vanzo and Gérard Souzay has never, to my knowledge, been issued on CD.
After this 1963 performance, Navarraise only reappeared at Carnegie Hall in 2010 in a concert performance featuring Elina Garanca (as a rather icy Anita) and Roberto Alagna. It was conducted by Alberto Veronesi in one of his fleeting appearances as the head of Opera Orchestra of New York; a rumored commercial recording featuring this trio never materialized.
Last summer saw a semi-staged revival of Navarraise as part of the Bard Summerscape Puccini Festival where it was paired with Le Villi. In a piece for The New York Times, Our Own JJ found the Puccini more effective than the Massenet.
Those who enjoy Navarraise might want to check out a previous Massenet-Gorr “Trove Thursday” offering—Hérodiade co-starring Régine Crespin, Guy Chauvet and Robert Massard.
Although I had scheduled this opera months ago, this week by chance I was reading a collection of tales purportedly written by another Navarraise: the Heptaméron by the renowned Marguerite de Navarre. I had never heard of this fascinating 16th century work, a French equivalent of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s Decameron, until I saw it cited as the source of a quote prominently featured in André Aciman’s ravishing 2007 novel Call Me by Your Name which I belatedly just read.
Massenet: La Navarraise
January 18, 1963
Anita: Rita Gorr
Araquil: George Shirley
Garrido: Fernando Corena
Remigio: Raymond Michalski
Conductor: Robert Lawrence
As always, this week’s “Trove Thursday” offering can be downloaded via the audio-player included on this page. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.