There’s little doubt that Massenet’s first full-length opera was a botch job. Desperate for a hit, the Opéra-Comique threw together a libretto that ultimately derived its subject matter from Victor Hugo’s popular drama Ruy Blas . The 30-year-old composer – not the management’s first choice – rattled off the score in a few weeks, but when it opened in 1872, Don César de Bazan fell flat (and that despite a cast that contained the future creators of the roles of Carmen, Don José and Escamillo!) It would be another five years before Le Roi de Lahore put Massenet’s name firmly on the map.

Despite lukewarm reviews – the score suffers from dramaturgical and musical defects, almost all the result of inexperience – Massenet never quite gave up on Don César . After the parts were lost in a fire, he “recreated” the score and this fine Naxos recording is of that 1888 revision. Ironically the work’s most famous number is the coloratura aria “À Séville, belles señoras,” but as that was a later adaptation of the sprightly Act III Entr’acte you...

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