By the second half of the 19th Century, Massenet, along with Rimsky-Korsakov (in my opinion) joined the ranks with Wagner & Verdi as the foremost composers of operatic works. In France, Massenet was the most successful operatic composer & it has been decades since his death in 1912 that his operas were performed with regularities. By the second World War and two decades thereafter, most of French operas & operattas took the back seat in most repetoire and it was not until the early 1970s when French operas re-earned the interests they rightfully deserved.
Herodiade was no exception. However, interest in this work did not occur until the 1990s: it was largely ignored during the 20th Century despite its' success at its' Monnaie, France premiere of 1882, which earned an additional 54 performances for the next two seasons.
Peculiar! Herodiade is a type of opera which has significant roles singing artists may want not to resist temptations in performing. It's a work of excitement and passion and Massenet shared Tchaikovsky's neurotic psychological approach to the characters of their theatrical works. Their works are that of human emotions & their reactions to their happenings (plots) and just mere descriptions of sceneries. That add more excitement & dimensions to their operas and thus the complexities.
Like Karl Goldmark's "Queen of Sheba", Verdi "Aida", Richard Strauss' "Salome", "Herodiade" deals with love, passion, desparation, defiance, & the struggle to overcome temptations to love, in setting where religion rules, and fundamentally so. One is torn between observing religious laws governing societies and breaking them in order to feel more fulfilled, as a more complete person with wants & needs. Can anyone not relate to that today? Massenet and Librettists Paul Milliet & Henri Gremont handle this human nature-like predicament effectively, with bold honesty & with nothing to lose. Herodiade, like the other operas mentioned above, has a message of what love can do to a person if it is not controlled.
As for the performance. Cheryl Studer, who sang with power & conviction in Strauss' "Salome" with Sinopoli conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden, performed with the same level of power & conviction. In playing Salome in Strauss' opera & in Herodiade, Cheryl Studer bring out the human temptations and desparations out of her without exagerating Salome's personality. Nadine Denize played Herodiade effectively, as a woman torn between her husband Herode & her daughter Salome. Martine Olmieda played John the Baptist as the priest torn between Herode's (played evocatively by Ben Heppner) evil attempts to silence him & Salome's uncontrolable love for him. The rest of the cast played with upmost vividness & imagination. Michel Plasson & the Choeur et Orchestra du Capitole de Toulouse played with passion & urgency. Plasson directed the performance in a fast pace, but with excitement & upmost discipline embedded. Although I always prefer live recordings of operas, this recording will do.
Recommended! You will not be disappointed.