Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ensemble Dusts Off Isouard Rarity

Just what qualifies as an operatic rarity may be a little different here than in other parts of the world, but Nicolas Isouard's "Cendrillon" fits the term by any standard. This opera comique, which dates from 1810 and long remained a favorite in Paris, has not been heard for 150 years. It makes its 20th-century debut Tuesday at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater, with Richard Bonynge conducting the Ensemble XXI Moscow orchestra in a concert performance with an international cast of promising young singers.

Bonynge dusted off many an early 19th-century opera for his wife, soprano Dame Joan Sutherland, during her long career and seems to have accumulated quite a reserve of seldom-performed operas that either weren't right for her voice or couldn't be squeezed into their schedules. Nowadays, even with an active career that takes him around the world conducting better-known operas, he continues to find time to sift through them.

Bonynge appears in Moscow thanks to the efforts of conductor Lygia O'Riordan, who helped found Ensemble XXI Moscow in 1989. She studied bel canto operas with Bonynge in Barcelona and London and also worked with Bonynge and Sutherland in Sydney when Sutherland made her farewell to the opera stage in 1990. O'Riordan eventually invited Bonynge to Moscow to conduct her orchestra, and the result was a performance of Haydn's opera "Orfeo ed Euridice" in 1995.

The choice of "Cendrillon" for this second appearance reflects Bonynge's strong interest in opera comique, a popular form of French opera with spoken dialogue rather than recitatives. Bonynge recently delighted opera enthusiasts with a recording of "Le Domino Noir" by that master of the genre D.F.E. Auber. The composer Isouard is part of the previous generation, falling within the period between the death of Mozart and the emergence of Rossini. Few opera composers of that period are remembered today.

At a news conference at the theater earlier this month, Bonynge said hints of both Mozart and Rossini can be detected in Isouard's music, as can Beethoven and Schubert, but it has its own personal stamp as well. Like many composers who were successful in French opera, Isouard was not a native Frenchman. Born in Malta in 1773 and trained in Palermo and Naples, he is often said to have brought Italian style to French music. Because of parental opposition to his musical career, however, he wrote mainly under the names Nicol? or Nicol? de Malte. After settling in Paris in 1800, he had one success after another and for a time enjoyed an effective monopoly at the Opera Comique through his partnership with librettist

C.-G. Etienne. His creative powers were at first sharpened by competition with the composer Louis Boieldieu when the latter returned from Russia in 1811, but after Boieldieu was chosen over him for membership in the Institut de France in 1817, Isouard went into a rapid personal decline and died of consumption the following year.

"Cendrillon" was conceived as a vehicle for the French soprano Alexandrine Saint-Aubin, but unlike Rossini's operatic treatment of the story, it has three major female roles, since each of Cinderella's two stepsisters has an elaborate part, rich in vocal filigree. "They don't fight with swords, they fight with coloratura," Bonynge said. Cinderella's eventual triumph is one of simple virtue over artifice, a point the composer underscores by giving Cinderella a more natural, unadorned vocal line.

Two of the participants return form the performance three years ago.

Lyudmila Shilova, a leading soprano from the opera in Yekaterinburg, sings Cinderella, and Russian tenor Nikolai Dorozhkin plays the Prince.

Three other singers came to the attention of Bonynge during master classes he and his wife gave in the English town of Aldeburgh. Finnish soprano Mariann Sjolander and Korean soprano Byung Soon Lee will take the parts of the stepsisters, and Hans Pieter Herman, a baritone from the Netherlands, will sing Alidor.

After her farewell, Sutherland was reported to have said that she would stay out of teaching. Yet even though she has not taken on private students, Bonynge noted, she is increasingly involved with the careers of young artists.

Sutherland came to Moscow for the Haydn opera, but this time she will be in Spain, serving as a judge in a vocal competition.

"Cendrillon" is billed as a concert performance, but the singers are working with French director Marie-Clair Szekely on matters of French style. Some rudimentary staging is a possibility, O'Riordan said. The performance will be recorded for release on the Olympia label.

Ensemble XXI Moscow was founded by O'Riordan and the Finnish violinist Pia Siirala to create the first full-time orchestra in the Soviet Union composed of Russian and foreign musicians. It performs widely in Russia and abroad.

Ensemble XXI Moscow performs "Cendrillon" on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater, 17 Bolshaya Dmitrovka. Tel. 229-8388. Nearest metro: Pushkinskaya.