This is the sort of opera production that makes my musicologist's heart go pitter-pat, the rediscovery of an opera by Marin Marais. The great viola da gamba player and composer was acclaimed as a great opera composer when his opera Alcyone was triumphantly rediscovered. The Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles produced this concert performance reconstruction (edited by French musicologist Gérard Geay) of Marais's Sémélé (1709), performed by Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel, as part of the Festival International d'Opéra Baroque in Beaune (the new name this year shifts the focus to opera). Performances were also scheduled for Montpellier (July 12) and at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris (October 23). Christian Merlin wrote a review of the Beaune premiere (Un opéra symphonique, July 3) for Le Figaro (my translation):
Hervé Niquet is never happier than when he sends trumpets and tympani charging at full flourish, reinforces a grandiose chaconne, or lets loose a supernatural tempest. He brings the pieces together with no dead time, while the smile of first violin player Alice Piérot shines on all the musicians and choristers of Le Concert spirituel. The casting is striking because of its youth, ready to do without any monstres sacrés. One admires the mastery of the French musical style and the diction: at a time when so many performances of Carmen and The Tales of Hoffmann remain incomprehensible, salvation comes decidedly from the Baroque singers.Renaud Machart wrote a longer review ("Sémélé", de Marin Marais, ressuscitée à Beaune, July 6) for Le Monde (my translation):
If with Lully the truly dramatic splendor of the recitatives is manifest and the instrumental and choral moments are brilliant but often secondary, it is the reverse with Marin Marais: we remember especially the choral scenes and the orchestral music, including a monumental chaconne that has for a succulent oddity being at least in part in duple time. The performance by this production's young soloists, on Saturday, July 1, seemed a little bit like the graduation project of a Baroque internship. We heard especially the intention to do well, but nothing more. Hervé Niquet, with large gestures and lovely imagination, directed the large scenes of the score well, especially the choral passages, but the ensemble did not seem together in the longer scenes.A recording is hopefully in the works.
Because the festival leadership had decided to try to conclude the performance before the France-Brazil World Cup soccer match, the intermission was too short to allow the keyboard instruments to be tuned. Much of the second part (the prelude to the fifth act!) was played in a sort of No Man's Land of intonation, made worse by two string basses that had been out of tune since the beginning. We trust that Niquet will tweak this Sémélé into shape before its next performance.