David Shengold of OPERA Magazine published a review of the Le Dernier Socier CD in their March 2020 issue. Read the full review below:
In her long, important career, Pauline Viardot served the musical world as prima donna, composer, muse, pedagogue, advisor and salon hostess. Her acquaintances and admirers were legion, most notably the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, who lost his heart to her in her years starring in St Petersburg.
Turgenev lived and travelled with Viardot and her husband for decades. He sometimes furnished librettos for Pauline’s domestic musical productions, including this charming 1867 two-act chamber opera. A Liszt pupil and associate, Viardot recalls her teacher in her pianistic writing, which she herself executed at the work’s premiere chez Turgenev in Baden-Baden.
The long-private manuscript surfaced recently and this represents its modern unveiling. The CD lasts 66 minutes, including a sensible English-language narration written by Camille Zamora, clearly delivered by the British actress Trudie Styler. The numbers—solo, duo, choruses and an a cappella quartet—are given in the original French. The fading wizard Krakamiche (a game if somewhat uneven Eric Owens) has a long-standing row with a Fairy Queen (Jamie Barton, excellent) whose band torments him, led by the lively Verveine (the delightful soprano Sarah Brailey). The Queen likes Krakamiche’s daughter Stella (Zamora) and has brought her together with a prince (the rich-timbred mezzo Adriana Zabala).
Zamora remains an expressive musician but her soprano’s worn top simply isn’t up to the writing for the girlish Stella. The other character is another diminished magician, Krakamiche’s servant, an opéra comique character well served vocally and linguistically by the gifted light tenor Michael Slattery. Everything ends happily enough, with the sorcerer agreeing to the young lovers’ union and the fairies’ dominance over the forest restored.
The terrific collaborative pianist Myra Huang handles the lion’s share of the accompaniment and Michelle Oesterle’s Manhattan Girls Chorus adds flair as the fairy band. Viardot and Turgenev’s tuneful, sophisticated entertainment seems a natural for chamber opera groups and conservatoires.