1842 — 1912
As composer of over thirty operas, Jules Massenet was one of the most energetic and influential figures in French music during the belle-époque, and he's still a commanding presence in the French operatic repertoire. Born in the rural Loire valley, he was trained at the Paris Conservatoire, where – as a student – he won the admiration of Berlioz and supplemented his income by playing percussion and piano in the city's theatres. His first major success, the grand opera Le Roi de Lahore (1877) was performed across France and Europe, and in subsequent operas including Manon (1884), Werther (1892), Thaïs (1894), Cendrillon (1899) and Chérubin (1905) he refined a style characterised by colourful orchestration, superbly crafted vocal melodies and a knack for creating an (often sensuous) atmosphere with the most graceful of musical means. Despite accusations of sentimentality, many of Massenet's operas have proved enduringly popular, with individual numbers (such as the instrumental Méditation from Thaïs) becoming favourites in their own right. Orchestral suites, incidental music, cantatas and a substantial body of exquisitely wrought solo songs also flowed from Massenet's pen, and his later years were prosperous. And although some younger French composers saw his polished style as something to react against, others were quick to take inspiration from his unmistakably Gallic blend of melody, elegance and ardour.
Anna Netrebko, Elīna Garanča, Piotr Beczala, Andrew Swait, PKF – Prague Philharmonia, Prague Philharmonic Choir, Emmanuel Villaume
French Opera Arias
Roberto Alagna, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Bertrand de Billy