Gluck, Armide, Les musiciens du Louvre, M. Minkowski
Lully, Armide, Opera Lafayette, R. Brown
Armide (check out the online score of the 1783 edition scanned by the University of North Texas Libraries) is one of the lesser-known of Gluck's operas, judging from the number of folks who commented casually that Monday night's performance was the first time time they had heard it. With the opera's 1777 premiere, Gluck famously stood on the shoulders of giants, setting a libretto adapted (quite faithfully, although cutting the sycophantic prelude) from the brilliant one written by Philippe Quinault for Lully. It is an opera that I studied at some length for my doctoral dissertation (reading not for the faint of heart) and that I have written about here before, in reviews of the lone recording, by Marc Minkowski, and in a 2007 staging by Maryland Opera Studio. Opera Lafayette's Ryan Brown conducted that performance, presented in conjunction with his company's performance of Lully's Armide the same year, but it was hardly surprising to see Opera Lafayette return to the work this season, this time with much more appropriate dancing for the ballet music, performed by their regular partner, Catherine Turocy's New York Baroque Dance Company.
Brown felt compelled to make some cuts, to keep the performance time to three hours with an intermission: Minkowski made cuts, too, and his recording fits onto two CDs. The decision makes sense in terms of a live performance.
Anne Midgette, Opera Lafayette marks 15th anniversary with sold-out performance in a big space (Washington Post, February 3)
Anthony Tommasini, Love and Sorcery in a Religious War (New York Times, February 4)
Among the women, the tall, confident Stephanie Houtzeel stole the show as La Haine, singing with a fierce, barbed tone and malicious presence, quite in keeping with what we have heard from her in the title role of Lully's Armide and in Handel and Haydn with Opera Lafayette. Gluck's Armide, however, lies much higher, and while soprano Dominique Labelle had a dramatic, cutting edge to her tone, the top was disappointingly strained, turning acidic. (With the orchestra tuned to A430, those high notes are still pretty high.) In the supporting cast, Dutch soprano Judith van Wanroij's Sidonie stood out for the clarion resonance of her voice, overshadowing the lighter but still lovely Nathalie Paulin as Phénice. The talented chorus sang well, with a present sound that stayed remarkably unified from their unfortunately distant position in the chorister seats above the stage.
Opera Lafayette will close its 15th anniversary season with the modern American premiere of Philidor's Sancho Pança (May 24, 7:30 pm), in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.