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Briefly Noted: Bewitched by Opera

available at Amazon
L'opéra des opéras, Le Concert Spirituel, K. Deshayes, K. Watson, R. van Mechelen, H. Niquet

(released on January 11, 2019)
Alpha ALPHA442 | 74'10"
Do not let the silly cover art turn you away from this deserving new release led by French early music specialist Hervé Niquet. It is a selection of arias, choral numbers, and instrumental pieces from a range of operas by Rameau, Charpentier, Marais, Leclair, Campra, Francoeur, Mondonville, and names even more obscure. Not content with merely a random assortment of music, Benoît Dratwicki has chosen and arranged the pieces to create a new short opera, recorded in the Opéra Royal de Versailles in 2017. Dratwicki, the artistic director of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles, took the idea from the gesture of Louis XIV when, in 1671, the Sun-King requested that Lully create a Ballet des ballets, bringing together excerpts from the 30-some ballets the composer had performed before his court.

The plot dreamed up for this makeshift opera suits, more or less, the excerpts from lots of different operas. A prince is in love with a princess, sung by tenor Reinoud van Mechelen and soprano Katherine Watson, respectively. The former has a sweet, sighing top well suited to the high-set haute-contre writing in French opera, while the latter sings with an edge sharpened by an active vibrato. The couple's love is thwarted by a wicked sorceress, sung with reedy, malevolent force by mezzo-soprano Karine Deshayes. (Hervé Niquet thought this triangle of characters similar to that found in the television show Bewitched, and thus the album cover was born.) If anything, the instrumental playing exceeds the singing in beauty, not least the magisterial Passacaille from Lully's Armide, which concludes the disc.

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