Odyssey Opera, a company based in Boston, MA, just released the very first complete recording of Saint-Saëns’ Henry VIII. You can find the 4 disc CD here.
Henry VIII is a grand opera premiering at the Palais Garnier in 1883. The opera was incredibly popular at the time, with performances at the Royal Opera House and La Scala after debuting at the Paris Opera. This romantic era work is representative of its time, of spectacle of sights and sounds, including 5 saxophones in the banda. But there are few modern interpretations of this opera. To go further into depth, here is an article interviewing Dr. Hugh MacDonald, the English musicologist whose research was instrumental in getting this new performance of Henry VIII off the ground. One point stands out about French era romantic operas, Dr. MacDonald says “The control of the opera was not always in the composer’s hands. You don’t tamper with a Wagner opera, [yet] people made cuts with almost everything else. It was standard at the time.”
Researching French opera, it’s difficult to find complete recordings of the opera in question. Researching just one opera requires listening to every available recording because there is no standard performance for each opera. Some are missing instruments, some are missing incidental music or arias, even ballets are completely cut from the opera. How was the opera performed and how did the saxophone fit in are difficult questions to answer when there are these holes in modern interpretations of these works. It’s not just Saint-Saëns who this applies to, it’s almost every major French composer. With renewed interest into French opera, a more complete picture is evolving when it comes to these works and how Adolph Sax influenced these works and how the saxophone fits in.