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Spyridon Samaras was born in Corfu on 29 November 1861. His mother was from Constantinople and his father a diplomat from Siatista. He started his studies when still young with Spyridon Xyndas, then from 1875 to 1882 he was a student at the Athens Conservatory, where his main teachers were three Italians: Federico Bolognini, Angelo Mascheroni and Enrico Stancampiano. In 1882 he went to Paris to further his musical education, and he soon caught the eye of Jules Massenet. His other instructors were three giants of the Romantic French era: Leo Delibes, Theodore Dubois and Charles Gounod.
He remained in Paris for three years where he achieved a very positive reputation, after which he migrated to Italy in 1885, where he quickly became an important figure on the Italian opera scene. He became closely associated with the Milanese publisher Edoardo Sanzogno, who was also the founder of the Teatro Lirico Internazionale, and for the theatre's opening on 22 September 1894 Sanzogno chose Samaras' opera La Martire.
Samaras' stage-works enjoyed wide popularity, and his works were staged in several cities both in Europe and elsewhere. He returned to Greece in 1911, thinking he would be appointed director of Athens Conservatoire, but the 'National School' considered the composers of the 'Ionian School', like Samaras, too much Italian influenced. He supported himself by composing 'operettas' aiming at pleasing a varied audience, but in all truth he was not cut out for this genre of composition. Samaras achieved lasting fame when he was commissioned to compose the Olympic Anthem for the inaugural Games of the Modern Era in 1896. Later, it was declared as the official anthem of the Olympic Movement, and it has been used at every opening ceremony since the 1960 Winter Olympics. Samaras died on 25 March 1917, aged fifty-five, almost completely forgotten if it were not for the Olympic Anthem.
Premiered on 9 November 1905 in Genoa, Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle was Samaras' most popular opera in his day. In four acts to a libretto by Paul Millet after Dumas' play, the opera is mainly focused on the Mademoiselle and the amorous escapades of Duke Richelieu. We are in the times just preceding the Revolution and in the Gardens of the Marquise de Prie de Chantilly a lavish social occasion is taking place.
Listen — Spyridon Samaras: Prelude (Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle)
(CD 1 track 1, 0:00-1:00) ℗ 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
Chevalier d'Ambigny, one of the main characters, who is in attendance, is besotted with love for 'Mademoiselle', who has come to intercede with the King for her father, who is imprisoned in the Bastille. Richelieu makes a bet with his friends that he has the power to lure the first woman to appear before him.
Just then Mademoiselle appears. Unhesitatingly, Ambigny intervenes and accepts the bet, as he is about to marry the girl. To win the bet Richelieu asks the Marquise de Prie to help him. She consents, but she is also determined to help the girl who is being sheltered in her castle. In the meantime, de Prie has arranged for the girl to meet her father in the Bastille. When Mademoiselle leaves, De Prie finds herself alone. Richelieu enters the Marquise's apartments using the key given to him by the same Marquise when they were lovers. Luckily she realizes in time what has happened and immediately blows the candle out. Still she does not run away. She wants to have evidence of the rapport with the woman he mistakes for Mademoiselle. Just then the Duke casts a note written by De Prie out of the window to D'Aubigny and just falls into the arms of the Marquise.
A strange turn of events leads to the discovery of how Richelieu was duped by De Prie, when all of a sudden the Revolution explodes and the Marquise is to be exiled. In a desperate attempt to try and save herself, she writes to the Queen requesting an audience. As Richelieu is about to take the note to the Queen, he recognizes the handwriting. It is of the Marquise. To his chagrin he realizes that his escapade was in fact with the Marquise and not Mademoiselle. He tries to escape, but finds himself in prison. Towards the end Mademoiselle and D'Aubigny meet, but he wants to kill himself, thinking he has been betrayed. She tells him how on that night she was at the Bastille meeting her father. Having previously lost a bet with Richelieu in a game of cards, D'Aubigny's mood soon turns grey. Enter Richelieu who dispels the misunderstanding and releases D'Aubigny from the debt of honour. The lovers forgive him and they happily embark on their new life.
Listen — Spyridon Samaras: Grand Dieu - Finale II (Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle)
(CD 2 track 20, 2:56-3:56) ℗ 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
This work was composed during the late Romantic period in Italy, and the piece has all the ingredients so familiar with Italian operas at the beginning of the twentieth century with a tasty story, attractive melodies, exciting ensembles scenes and some fine orchestration.
Listen — Spyridon Samaras: Comment se nomme celui-là? (Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle)
(CD 1 track 8, 4:30-5:29) ℗ 2021 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :
Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle deserves to be better known, and I hope this issue will win Samaras and his music a legion of admirers. Performances are excellent, but the recording is nothing to write home about. Still, considering that this work was recorded live way back in the 1990s from a Bulgarian theatre, this edition in hand should fully satisfy the curiosity of those wishing to be treated to something extremely rare, but still worth hearing.
Copyright © 20 June 2021
CD INFORMATION - SAMARAS: MADEMOISELLE DE BELLE-ISLE