Compared to his colleagues in the French Baroque harpsichord business, Rameau wrote relatively little keyboard music. It all fits on two discs. Like the keyboard sonatas of his contemporary Scarlatti, these pieces contain moments when Rameau clearly uses the harpsichord to evoke the sound of the orchestra–trumpets, flutes, and drums–but unlike Scarlatti's, several of these pieces were actually orchestrated and reappear as dance numbers in Rameau's operas. William Christie is our leading exponent of French Baroque opera, Rameau in particular, and it follows that he is alive to every detail in these fascinating and delightful miniatures. At midprice, this is a great deal.-David Hurwitz
Handel's operas–the center of his creative life before oratorios became the focus–have spent far too long in limbo awaiting rediscovery, which slowly started happening in the late '60s with works such as Giulio Cesare. But whether Handelian opera is still a novelty or you're already a rabid convert, this emotionally resonant, crisply played, superbly cast interpretation under William Christie and Les Arts Florissants is likely to shake up some of your ideas about the composer.
For any enthusiast of Baroque music, the production of Lully's Armide at the Theatre des Champs Elysées, directed by William Christie and staged by Robert Carsen, was an exceptional event. The last and most successful collaboration between Lully and his librettist Quinault, Armide is the ideal of the genre as desired by Louis XIV: a tragic opera that achieves the perfect fusion of music, song and dance. William Christie leads the orchestra and chorus of Les Arts Florissants and a dazzling cast. Stephanie D’Oustrac is the imperious sorceress Armida, overcome by the violence of a forbidden passion.
‘Semele’ is presented in Robert Carsen’s stylish modern dress production, originally seen in London, and most recently staged at the Zurich Opera in 2007. The drama tells of the ambition of the beautiful mortal, Semele, who, not satisfied with being Jupiter’s mistress, strives with fatal results to supplant Jupiter’s wife, Juno. Conceived as an oratorio but nowadays presented as a stage drama, it is a superb vehicle for all the principals, not least the substantial title role, which includes such popular arias as ‘Endless pleasure’ and ‘Myself I shall adore’.
A live performance from October 2011 at the Theatre de Caen affords a superb introduction to Cavalli’s rarely performed 1641 opera La Didone. William Christie leads Les Arts Florissants in beautifully realized period style, while French stage actor Clement Hervieu-Leger, in his operatic directorial debut, draws powerful and moving characterizations from a large, versatile cast.
One can easily appreciate this early William Christie recording with Capella Coloniensis, a group originally formed in 1954 (!) to perform baroque works in historically informed performances. Christie masters this orchestra well, and the playing is impeccable. The casting is excellent, including some of the great singers of the time: Emma Kirkby, in her prime, Agnes Mellon, Dominique Visse and David Cordier, among others. There is even a male soprano, Randall K. Wong, a rare type of singer indeed.