Olivier Messiaen - Saint Franτois d'Assise [4CD] [FLAC]
*booklet scans included
This recording was nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for "Best Opera Recording."
'Saint Franτois d'Assise,' Messiaen's only opera, brings together a lifetime of musical experimentation and a highly personal set of musical languages. As a devout Catholic, Messiaen aptly chose St. Francis' life as a topic to set to his own mystical music. Glacially slow tempos often bring time to a transfigured halt, but alternate with the vivid harmonies and rhythms familiar from Messiaen's orchestral scores. Birdsong is a constant presence--each character is assigned one as a recurring leitmotif--culminating in the score's greatest moment, the "Grand Concert of the Birds," a marvel of controlled chaos.
If any late 20th-century opera aspires to the epic qualities of a Wagnerian "Gesamtkunstwerk," this is it: Messiaen wrote the libretto and made very clear specifications regarding movement, color and lighting, all of which combine with his music in an end result that is both religious ritual and opera. José van Dam, who created the demanding title role in 1983, is a powerful presence in this live recording from the 1998 Salzburg Festival, and Dawn Upshaw--the lone female soloist in this baritone-dominated work--is appropriately radiant as the Angel. Conducted by Kent Nagano, who studied the score with the composer, this can be recommended to fans of Messiaen or to anyone interested in modern opera as a truly definitive recording.