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.
This superb recording of the compositions of Lully for the court of Louis XIV is almost perfect in delivery; evoking the sophistication, wit, grandeur, humor that would be required to entertain the most demanding of monarchs amidst the most sophisticated court in Europe. The character of Lully is fascinating. Lully was an Italian actor, dancer and musician who becomes the central creative force in music theatre in the court of the Sun King. However it is the flawless music that is contained in this recording that should be heard. With use of period instruments William Christie and Les Arts Florissants paint a range of compositions from various operas and periods in Lully's career in the court of the Sun King.
Following on acclaimed releases of Bellerophon and Phaeton, Christophe Rousset continues his revival of Lully's tragedies lyriques for the Aparte label with Amadis. One of the composer's finest scores, Amadis is a masterpiece of French Baroque music. It was Louis XIV himself who asked Lully and his librettist Quinault to base an opera on Montalvo's Amadis de Gaula. Avoiding the usual mythological subjects gave the composer and librettist an opportunity to expand the scope of the tragedie lyrique genre.
Phaeton was first produced not at the Palais-Royal Theatre in Paris but modestly at Versailles in January 1683. In the spring of that year it transferred to the Palais-Royal and was well enough thought of to enjoy revivals at regular intervals into the early 1740s. Indeed, rather as Atys became known as the ''King's opera'' and Isis as the musicians', Phaeton acquired its sobriquet, ''the opera of the people''. Among the many attractive airs ''Helas! Une chaine si belle'' (Act 5) was apparently a favourite duet of Parisian audiences, while ''Que mon sort serait doux'' (Act 2), another duet, was highly rated by Lully himself. In 1688 Phaeton was chosen to inaugurate the new Royal Academy of Music at Lyon where, as Jerome de la Gorce remarks in his excellent introduction, it was so successful ''that people came to see it from forty leagues around''. The present recording is a co-production between Erato and Radio France, set up to mark the occasion of the opening of the new Opera House at Lyon.
The first volume of Tempesta di Mare's series on Chandos, Comédie et Tragédie, offers period-style performances of orchestral music by Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Féry Rebel, and Marin Marais. The orchestral suites drawn from Lully's music for Le bourgeois gentilhomme, Rebel's symphonie nouvelle Les élémens, and Marais' suite from the tragédie en musique Alcyone give a taste of theater music in the court of Louis XIV and Louis XV, and these pieces show how inventive composers were with instrumentation and their combinations of dances with dramatic scene painting. Tempesta di Mare, which is also known as the Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra, gives bright and energetic performances, and the musicians have a fine sense of the swung rhythms, distinctive tone colors, and lively ornamentation in French Baroque music. The recording is clear and well-balanced, though the percussion in Lully's March for the Turkish Ceremony (track 4) is a bit startling, and the dissonant opening of Rebel's Le Chaos (track 13) has its own shock value. Highly recommended.