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Briefly Noted: Rameau's 'Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour'

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Rameau, Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, C. Santon-Jeffery, C. Sampson, B. Staskiewicz, R. van Mechelen, Le Concert Spirituel, H. Niquet

(released on October 28, 2014)
Glossa GCD921629 | 113'36"

available at Amazon
S. Bouissou, Jean-Philippe Rameau
(Fayard, 2014)
This past September 12 was the 250th anniversary of the death of Jean-Philippe Rameau. The composer's works have had a rough ride, passing into near-total obscurity by the end of the 18th century, then revived in nationalist editions that exaggerated and misrepresented their achievements in orchestration. Sylvie Bouissou has shepherded the long-delayed complete Rameau scholarly edition to completion in time for the anniversary, and one of the last works yet to receive a modern performance, Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, edited by Thomas Soury, came out last year. Rameau and his librettist, Louis de Cahusac, created this ballet héroïque for a public production but had to shelve it when the Dauphin's first wife died. When the Dauphin was remarried, in 1747, they had the work in hand for the celebration, after adding a prologue showing the reconciliation of Cupid and Hymen, thus recontextualizing the work for the wedding. It was premiered in the Manège of the Grande Écurie at Versailles, for this was still about twenty years before construction began on the opera house there.

Hervé Niquet did not use the Soury edition for this recording, made last February at the Opéra Royal du Château de Versailles, but a version created by Fannie Vernaz (Les Éditions des Abbesses) for the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, which sponsored the performances. Niquet's ensemble, Le Concert Spirituel, makes beautiful sounds: sweet flutes, brilliant trumpets and timpani in the finale, and avian piccolos in the birdsong scene that concludes the first entrée, as well as two musettes, or bagpipes, in the dances of the Egyptian shepherds in the final entrée.

The cast is led by the piping, crystalline soprano of Chantal Santon-Jeffery, who takes the parts of both the Amazon princess Orthésie, who leads that birdsong scene, and the triumphant Orie in the final entrée. Soprano Carolyn Sampson has several excellent turns, as Cupid and Memphis, Canope's beloved nymph in the middle entrée. Two haute-contres, the very high French tenor, are required, and Reinoud Van Mechelen and Mathias Vidal are valiant if not quite ideal. The recording makes a case for the ear to go with the astute booklet essay by Benoît Dratwicki, artistic director of the CMBV, which claims that Cahusac and Rameau likely thought of this work as "the prototype for a complete theatrical spectacle, where verse, dance, music, and decoration together add up to a coherent and diverting entity for the audience."

Washingtonians can hear a rare live performance of this work this evening, presented by Opera Lafayette in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall (October 6, 7:30 pm).


Gary said...

I'm going tonight. Really looking forward to seeing this.

Gary said...

I went. It was delightful.