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Briefly Noted: 'Les Danaïdes'

available at Amazon
A. Salieri, Les Danaïdes, J. van Wanroij, P. Talbot, Les Chantres du CMBV, Les Talens Lyriques, C. Rousset

(released on August 28, 2015)
ES1019 | 108'26"
Antonio Salieri (1750-1825) had a memorable start as an opera composer. In 1783 he began to assist Gluck in completing an opera to be called Les Danaïdes, but the opera was not that far along. Salieri ended up completing the opera himself, which was first presented under Gluck's name and then revealed as Salieri's work when it achieved success. It remained in the repertory in Paris for a long time, at least until the 1820s where it had a strong influence on the young Hector Berlioz. A essay in the booklet for this new recording of the opera by Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques quotes Berlioz's Memoirs, where the composer, thirty years after that night at the opera, claims Salieri's music convinced him to abandon the study of medicine.

Salieri, tutored well by Gluck, dedicated the opera to Queen Marie-Antoinette and went on to enjoy great success in Paris, producing two more operas there, Les Horaces and Tarare, the latter with a libretto by Beaumarchais, before the Revolution. A few of Salieri's operas have been recorded: Il Mondo alla Rovescia, La Locandiera, Falstaff (several), and even Les Danaïdes (more than one). This new version by Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques, recorded in the Arsenal of Metz in November 2013, is in the same lavishly produced series of booklet-CD sets from Palazetto Bru Zane that brought us David's Herculanum.

The story concerns the slightly nutty origin story of the kingdom of Argos, when Danaus was forced to marry his fifty daughters, the Danaids, to his brother's fifty sons. Following their father's orders, the sisters kill their cousin-husbands in their marriage beds, except for one, Hypermnestra, who spares her husband, Lynceus, and they become the first rulers of Argos. The opera, on a down and dirty libretto by Le Bland Du Roullet and Louis-Théodore de Tschudi (adapting the Italian original by Calzabigi, intended for Gluck), includes a dramatic second act set in the Temple of Nemesis, where Danaus forces his daughters to swear vengeance, a fourth act ending in the massacre of the husbands, and an over-the-top conclusion where the palace is exploded by lightning, revealing a view of Danaus and his daughters tormented by demons and the Furies in the underworld. Shabby little shocker, indeed.

Soprano Judith van Wanroij has dramatic edge in her voice as Hypermnestre, if not always the sweetness for the slow pieces. Philippe Talbot is a somewhat anodyne Lyncée, outshone by the smooth baritone of Tassis Christoyannis as Danaus. Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, prepared by Olivier Schneebelli, are strong in the various roles played by the chorus.

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