A WORLD PREMIERE RECORDING
150 YEARS IN THE MAKING
~ LE DERNIER SORCIER ~
The Last Sorcerer
Bass-Baritone Eric Owens (“one of the greatest bass-baritones in the world” – Bloomberg News) in the title role of the last sorcerer, Krakamiche
Mezzo-Soprano Jamie Barton (“a remarkable artist with great reservoirs of vocal power and agility wedded to an exquisite communicative gift” – San Francisco Chronicle) in the majestic role of La Reine
Soprano Camille Zamora (“luminous, transcendently lyrical” – Opera News) as the sorcerer’s beloved daughter Stella
Mezzo-Soprano Adriana Zabala (“a delight… alive to each possible nuance” – Opera News) in the trouser role of the lovelorn Prince Lelio
Tenor Michael Slattery (“a stunningly communicative actor and singer” – American Record Guide) as the comic valet Perlimpinpin
Soprano Sarah Brailey (“radiant, liquid tone” – The New York Times) as the impish fairy Verveine
Pianist Liana Pailodze ("upifting" – Amazon)
Pianist Myra Huang (“among the top accompanists of her generation" – Opera News)
Actress and Activist Trudie Styler ("inspirational" - Vogue) as Narrator
Released by BRIDGE RECORDS
A FEMINIST ECO-FABLE
IN OPERATIC FORM
A recently rediscovered treasure by one of the most compelling artists of the nineteenth century resonates with themes that speak to us in the twenty-first.
150 years ago, the great mezzo-soprano, composer, and pedagogue Pauline García Viardot created the salon opera Le dernier sorcier (The last sorcerer) in collaboration with the renowned Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev. The piece centered on themes of power and progress, gender and equality, and the restoration of natural order in an ever-changing world – a feminist eco-fable in operatic form.
Pauline García Viardot is the most famous Romantic heroine you’ve never heard of. She was born in Paris to Spanish parents, the tenor-cum-impresario Manuel García and the soprano Joaquina Sitchez. She and her siblings, the soprano Maria Malibran and the baritone/teacher Manuel Patricio Rodríguez García, were groomed for a life in music. Pauline’s circle was a who’s who of nineteenth-century European artistic society: she studied piano with Franz Liszt, co-authored mazurkas with Frédéric Chopin, sang Tristan and Isolde excerpts with Richard Wagner in her home, hosted Charles Dickens and Henry James as house guests, and shared insights with her best friend George Sand. At the age of seventeen, Pauline debuted the role of Desdemona in Rossini’s Otello in London to great acclaim, and went on to create roles for many leading composers of the day, including Giacomo Meyerbeer, Charles Gounod, Hector Berlioz, and Camille Saint-Saëns, who dedicated his Samson et Dalila to her.
In 1843, Pauline began traveling regularly to perform in Saint Petersburg, where she met the great Russian man of letters Ivan Turgenev. Turgenev fell passionately in love with her mesmerizing voice, quick wit, and depth of spirit, and returned with her to Paris, where they shared their lives and families for the four decades that followed. They collaborated on several works for the stage, including Le dernier sorcier.
A chamber opera in two acts, Le dernier sorcier revolves around Krakamiche, a once-powerful sorcerer whose presence in the great woods has upset the fairies, the forest’s rightful inhabitants, and disturbed the harmony of the land. Through the combined efforts of the fairy folk and their queen, the sorcerer's daughter and her prince, and a hapless valet, Krakamiche ultimately learns key truths about humility, love, and living in harmony with the natural world.
In soaring melodies and set pieces ranging from simple couplets to dramatic, quasi-Verdian ensembles, Le dernier sorcier holds its own among the remarkable operas of the period. At the work’s premiere in 1867 at Turgenev’s villa in Baden-Baden, Pauline played the piano (the sole instrument in the original score) and the roles were sung by her children and students. The audience consisted of leading figures of the day, including Liszt, Brahms, Clara Schumann, Hermann Levi, and Kaiser Wilhelm I, who hailed the piece as a treasure.
Viardot's original manuscript, scored for solo voices, treble chorus, and piano, was held a private collection for over a century, and as such, the work essentially vanished. Recently, the original piano-vocal score was acquired by Harvard University’s Houghton Library, which has given us permission to produce this world premiere recording.
There could be no more ideal collaborators for this passion project than the dream team assembled here. Eric Owens breathes life and glorious sound into our title character who, even in his most foolish moments, inspires our love. As the Fairy Queen, Jamie Barton casts arrestingly beautiful deus ex machina spells as only she can. Michael Slattery’s adorably out-of-luck Perlimpinpin kept us doubled over in laughter during his recording sessions, and Adriana Zabala’s Prince Lelio makes the forest ring. Sarah Brailey and the Manhattan Girls Chorus make us believe in the power of benevolent spirits (and the next generation) to create a better, brighter future for us all. Liana Pailodze Harron brings opulent pianism to the Queen’s two airs, and Myra Huang’s endlessly colorful interpretation of the full score reminds us why Opera News hails her as “among the top accompanists of her generation.” Trudie Styler is our sublime Narrator, bringing her inimitable wit and wisdom to every plot twist and turn. Harvard University’s Houghton Library made the entire project possible through its loan of Viardot’s original manuscript score. Nicholas Žekulin, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Calgary, was an eminently kind and ever-available resource. Marlan Barry brought golden ears and unflappable calm to his role as recording engineer and producer. And there could be no two associate producers more committed or generous than Adriana Zabala and Michelle Oesterle, whose contributions at every stage were invaluable. Each and every person involved in the creation of this album brought their fierce intellect, warm heart, and boundless talent to the process, and Pauline’s benevolent spirit smoothed our path along the way.
While there were several clumsily translated, poorly received German-language performances of the work in Weimar and Karlsruhe in 1869-1870, Pauline’s original score of Le dernier sorcier has never received a professional performance before now. Our hope is that this album will inspire future productions (and perhaps a full orchestra or chamber ensemble recording?), and that more and more artists and companies will consider Pauline’s work when programming future seasons. When the Metropolitan Opera performed Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin in 2016, it was only the second opera composed by a woman to be presented in the company’s 136-year history (the first, Ethel Smyth’s Der Wald, was presented in 1903). So, yes, unearthing and encouraging great work by women feels timely.
But just as important as its resonance with the current zeitgeist is this: Le dernier sorcier deserves our attention because it’s funny, fresh, poignant, and profound, and it conveys its big ideas in compelling, endlessly hummable ways. Its satire of tyranny, its focus on restoring a broken natural order, and its message of hope speak to us in timeless ways. Delving into this piece is not a concession, not programming for politics’ sake. It’s just plain good.
In the thorny a capella Act 2 quartet, Stella and Lelio share their worldview: “After night comes daylight, after exile comes freedom, and from this point on, my entire life shall be called happiness.” The lovers aren’t blind to life’s difficulties. They know that “la nuit, l’exil” – the dark, alienating forces of the world – cannot be ignored or explained away. But with their eyes wide open, they choose happiness. A sense of self-determination and sheer joy courses through Pauline García Viardot’s music, elevating us. It reminds us, as the Fairy Queen sings, that there is always hope.
–– Camille Zamora
Critic's Choice, August 2019
"Zamora assembled a first-rate cast..."
"With his cavernous bass-baritone, Eric Owens conveys Krakamiche's frustration at his waning power while singing with more beauty than is usually accorded an essentially buffo character..."
"Jamie Barton spins out her silken sound like a warm, maternal embrace..."
"Zabala partners beautifully with Zamora, their voices intertwining like flowers on a trellis..."
"Michael Slattery’s mellifluous tenor..."
"Sarah Brailey offers a silvery soubrette..."
“The Manhattan Girls Chorus dispatches its fairy tasks with a pleasing blend and admirable precision...”
"Myra Huang provides colorful, nuanced accompaniment..."
"Narration read with relaxed style by Trudie Styler..."
“A stellar cast...”
“This delightful premiere recording reveals Viardot as an accomplished melodist with a keen sense of character and dramatic pacing...”
THE WHOLE NOTE
“Totally unexpected fun makes this a recording to lift one’s spirits!”
“This premiere recording is a delight...”
“Eric Owens offers a fine portrait of an embittered man realizing the error of his ways, bringing his usual subtle gift for comedy...”
“Jamie Barton provides plenty of fruity, gorgeous tone as the Fairy Queen, relishing the soaring melodies...”
“Pianists Myra Huang and Liana Pailodze Harron are vivid communicators...”
“Trudie Styler is a warm narrator...”
In a forest in a far away land lives the old sorcerer Krakamiche. In his youth, he was a powerful, much-feared wizard with a magnificent palace and a strong servant, but time has diminished his omnipotence. All that remains of his palace is a hut, his servant is old and tired, and his wand served only to summon his daily bread (and even that only with the greatest of effort). He lives with his daughter, Stella, and passes his days in fits of frustration.
In the same forest live the elves, led by Verveine and ruled by their Queen. Many years before, Krakamiche expropriated their forest lands, and the elves had been powerless to fight him. Now that Krakamiche’s power has lessened with time, the elves delight in pestering him from morning to night.
Nearby lives Price Lelio, a king's son, who often hunts in the forest. He has fallen in love with Stella and wants to marry her, even though he is unsure of her actual identity.
The curtain rises on Krakamiche's hut, where the elves, led by Verveine, are teasing Krakamiche (“Par ici, par ici!”). They pour water down his chimney, dousing his fire and laughing at his distress. Together with their Queen, they hatch a plan to disguise themselves as visiting dignitaries to trick Krakamiche into eating magic grass that, they will lead him to believe, will restore his youth.
The elves exit, and Prince Lelio enters, pining for the lovely Stella (“Dans le bois frais et somber”). The Queen overhears Lelio’s lament and appears to makes a deal with him: In return for his obeying her commands, she will give him a magic flower that will enable him to become invisible at night (“Ramasse cette rose”). Having forged their alliance, the Queen and Lelio depart.
Krakamiche returns, bemoaning his fate (“Ah, la sotte existence”). He sings a comic duet with his long-suffering servant Perlimpinpin (“Eh bien!”), then kicks the poor servant out of the house and leaves. Stella enters and sings lovingly of the way in which the rains water her plants and maintain balance (“Chanson de la pluie: Coulez, gouttes fines”). The Queen returns and tells Stella of her impending meeting with Lelio (“Sur les yeux de ton père”), assuring her that great things are in store.
Perlimpinpin enters, reminiscing of his earlier, happier days (“Chanson de Perlimpinpin: Quand j'étais un géant”). An exotic delegation of visiting dignitaries (in fact, the elves in disguise) approaches to pay homage to Krakamiche, who receives them with delight (“Messieurs le sénateurs!”). After his grand (and self-aggrandizing) welcome, Krakamiche is eager to try the visitors’ magic youth-restoring grass, Moly. Soon, the “dignitaries” throw off their costumes, revealing their elfin identities, and trick is revealed, with Krakamiche driven to a wild waltz by the tormenting elves (“Ronde des Lutins: Tourne, tourne comme un tonton”). The Queen and the elves celebrate victory and depart (“Ronde des elfes: Compagnes ailées”).
Lelio cannot wait to use his magic invisibility flower to draw nearer Stella (“Stornello: Pourrais-je jamais aimer une autre femme?”). Hearing the approach of Krakamiche and Stella, Lelio quickly hides. Krakamiche enters carrying his enormous book of Merlin’s spells and searches for the incantation that will release him from the Queen's power. Stella works her spinning wheel, and sings a poignant duet with her father, assuring him that, rather than empty wealth, all she desires is authentic connection, a true home, and a loving heart (“Si tu ne sais pas”). He redoubles his efforts, explaining that, in wealth and grand palaces, she will find joy; she stands her ground, explaining that such objects hold no true happiness for her, and for her, joy will be found in the experience of life and love.
While Krakamiche continues to look for the right magic spell, Stella sings a little song to herself, and hears Lelio singing the third verse as though in echo (“Quand vient la saison fleurie”). Lelio then enters using the magic flower, and he and Stella sing warmly to one another (“C'est moi, ne craignez rien”). Lelio kneels before Stella, accidentally dropping the flower. This makes him visible to Krakamiche, who thinks it was his own power that has made the prince appear. He is furious, and casts a spell to summon a monster to will annihilate the prince (“Louppola, Schibbola, Trix”). Instead of a monster, the spell brings forth a goat, and Krakamiche faints from exhaustion.
As Stella and Lelio rush to help Krakamiche, the Queen appears. The sorcerer soon comes to, and in order to help the young couple, he consents to his daughter's marriage and promises to leave the great woods to live with his daughter and son-in-law in their castle outside of the forest. In an unaccompanied quartet, Krakamiche, Stella, Lelio, and Perlimpinpin sing of the futures that lie ahead (“Adieu, témoins de ma misère!”). The four of them depart for their new and rightful home, and the Queen waves her wand, making Krakamiche's hut disappear. The elves rejoice over the return of their forest and the restoration of the natural order (“Salut! Salut! O forêt bien aimée!”).
“Pauline possesses the secret of great artists: before expressing something, she feels it. She does not listen to her voice, but to her heart...”
- Alfred de Musset
“I tell you what all the world already knows: that Pauline Viardot is the most
exquisite dramatic singer of our time, and besides this, a consummate musician and a composer of the most delicate and lively intelligence...”
- Franz Liszt
“Pauline García Viardot was more than just the greatest diva of the 19th century.
The Paris-born Spanish mezzo-soprano transformed 19th-century opera and song, inspiring everyone from Berlioz to Brahms, and Clara Schumann to the young Fauré. Yet her own compositions have been virtually forgotten since her death in 1910...”
- Jessica Duchen
The Park Avenue Armory's Great Conversations Series recently featured a special preview of the upcoming world premiere recording of Pauline García Viardot's rediscovered 1867 operatic masterwork The Last Sorcerer (Le Dernier Sorcier). Arias and ensembles were performed, and source materials shared, by Sopranos Camille Zamora and Monica Yunus, Mezzo-Sopranos Krysty Swann and Adriana Zabala, Tenor Michael Slattery, Baritone Jorell Williams, and Pianist Myra Huang.
The inclusion of The Last Sorcerer (Le Dernier Sorcier) highlighted The Park Avenue Armory's Conversation Series' themes through its uncovering of a previously lost compositional voice and the work's prescient imperative to live a life in balance with the natural world.
ABOUT THE PARK AVENUE ARMORY CONVERSATION SERIES
Held in the historic period rooms of the Park Avenue Armory, The Park Avenue Armory Conversations Series, presented in collaboration with Aspen Institute Arts Program and ArtChangeUS, features leading artists, scholars, and cultural figures, offering new points of view on a range of creative themes, and encouraging audiences to think beyond conventional interpretations and perspectives of art.
Great thanks to Houghton Library at Harvard University for its invaluable support, including the loan of Pauline García Viardot’s original piano-vocal manuscript score.
Sincere gratitude to Professor Nicholas G. Žekulin of the University of Calgary for his trailblazing scholarship and generosity of spirit.
Thanks to University of Minnesota for its generous and enthusiastic support of this project.
Commire, Anne and Klezmer, Deborah, eds. (2001). "Viardot, Pauline (1821–1910)", Women in World History : A Biographical Encyclopedia ISBN 0-7876-4076-X (subscription required)
Žekulin, Nicholas G. (1989). The story of an operetta: 'Le dernier sorcier' by Pauline Viardot and Ivan Turgenev. München: Verlag O. Sagner. ISBN 3-87690-428-5