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Meyerbeer, Overtures and Entr'actes (Naxos)

Verdict:

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra revels in the spectacle and campery of Giacomo Meyerbeer.

Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) has become one of the sidelined composers of the 19th century. He was once an operatic giant, celebrated for spectacles such as Les Huguenots and Robert Le Diable, the style of which was sneakily assimilated into the great Wagnerian blending machine.

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The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's new recording of instrumental music from Meyerbeer's operas reveals an exceptional orchestrator. Rousing brass is one of this man's trademarks and the disc showcases the best of the NZSO's estimable players, providing a solid core for the dazzling finale of the Coronation March from Le Prophete.

Glowing in the acoustics of the Michael Fowler Centre, with astute production by Wayne Laird, the disc provides a generous 71 minutes of sonic grandeur, shot through with moments of ingenious delicacy.

If longer overtures come across as potpourris, one must remember that Meyerbeer was offering music of anticipation, intended to prepare an audience for what is about to happen on stage.

On disc, one does occasionally feel frustrated when one of the short entr'actes is not followed by the scene it is introducing.

Some listeners may not warm to the lighter side of Meyerbeer; after all he was very much writing for French opera houses. There is much that is frivolous and frothy -- music that would not be out of place in an opera comique by Auber or Messager.

An Orgie from Les Huguenots is far from R-rated with its sing-song phrases sounding more like children's playground tauntings. Yet, for the unbiased, there is subtlety. Flautist Bridget Douglas is justly credited in one track; and her fellow woodwind soloists also deserve praise. Then there are those extraordinary post-Berlioz bell effects in the final extract from Les Huguenots.

Young Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang shows dash and flair and, with his impressive CV, one is impatient to hear him on our concert circuit.

Full marks too for a fascinating booklet essay by Meyerbeer expert Robert Ignatius Letellier and a delightful cover featuring a campy turn-of-the-century postcard titled Apotheosis of Meyerbeer; an image of the good man, presumably in his own Valhalla, surrounded by his operatic heroes and heroines.