Massenet's Esclarmonde is a very rarely performed work, and after listening to this recording, one can see why. The title role requires the voice of a dramatic coloratura soprano, a very rare species of soprani rarer probably than Wagner's great hochdramatische sopranos. In fact, I know of only two sopranos who possess this certain kind of voice--Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. Both singers had voices the size fit for Wagnerian roles, but had the agility so required for the bel canto repertoire. In a role such as Esclarmonde, Joan Sutherland had the advantage over Callas due to the fascinating ease of her upper register. The title role in Esclarmonde not only has to endure the kind of vocal writing which makes them sing their parts with an agility required of a Konigin der Nacht, but also a vocal size large enough to carry over an orchestra equivalent to that used by Wagnerian operas. Natalie Dessay can easily sing the role, for example, but when Massenet decides to emulate a Wagnerian orchestra...well, Dessay will probably end up losing her voice. Anyways, Joan Sutherland is fantastic in the role. She handles the coloratura with such an agility that if this were her only role, it would make her singing legendary. It is an excellent characterization of the wronged sorceress, and I would recommend this recording highly for anyone willing to listen to Massenet composing out of his regular intimate drama.
Giacomo Aragall, Clifford Grant (an excellent Fafner, by the way), Graham Clark, and Tourangeau, all make up an excellent supporting cast for La Stupenda. That said, I must also commend Bonynge for his excellent conducting in such a rarely performed work.