CPO follows its stellar releases of Conradi's Ariadne and Lully's Thésée by the Boston Early Music Festival with an equally extraordinary performance of Lully's Psyché. These are works that have had limited exposure and are known far better by reputation than by performances or recordings.
The pastoral tragedy Acis et Galatée was Lully's last finished work, a three-act extravaganza complete with an opening Prologue, a closing Passacaglia, and assorted dances interspersed throughout. In the right performance, it is at once an inspiring work, a relaxing work, and even an entertaining work and this performance by the Choeurs des Musiciens du Louvre led by Marc Minkowski is surely the right performance.
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.
This opera concerns Perseus, his love for Andromeda, and his killing of the snake-headed gorgon Medusa. Jean-Baptiste Lully clearly meant the heroic Perseus to stand for Louis XIV, who commissioned the work. Indeed, while Persee is not on stage all the time, he is the central character of this lengthy, ceremonial, beautifully scored work. Those who love the peculiar formalities of French Baroque opera will need no coaxing.
Jean-Baptiste Lully's tragédie en musique Persée was first performed in 1682 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris, though this revival by Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel celebrates a much later performance given at L'Opéra Royal du Château de Versailles on May 16, 1770. Most period performances are typically derived from the instrumentation and practices of a specific era, yet Lully's period is not re-created here, nor the sound of the court opera of Louis XIV, but instead, an updated Persée that was presented for the nuptials of the future Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, some 88 years later.
Founded in 1991 by Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques are now internationally recognised for their excellence in the Baroque repertoire and their latest recordings in the genre, for Aparté, have earned them international acclaim. After the huge success of 'Bellérophon', they now present Lully's 'Phaéton', recorded at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in October 2012. The critics commented on the admirable clarity and precision of the performance, the perfection of the choruses, sung with veracity by the Namur Chamber Choir, and an ideal cast.
Lully's tragedie en musique, Atys, with a text by his favored librettist, Philippe Quinault, was one of his greatest operatic successes and was significant for setting a new standard for a distinctively French approach to opera. While Lully's operas have not entered the repertoire, they have fared well on record thanks to the efforts of some top-notch early music ensembles, and this 2010 performance of Atys featuring Hugo Reyne leading La Simphonie du Marais and Le Choeur du Marais is a superb addition to the composer's discography.