The story of rival factions, divine interventions, and love triumphing over obstacles political and personal clearly inspired some of Rameau's most adventurous musical evocations (just one example might be the fascinating harmonic language he uses to depict a magician commanding an eclipse). It's this spirit of daring experiment that Rameau expert Marc Minkowski relishes throughout this magnificent, high-octane, deftly tailored account. He fires the authentic-instrument group Les Musiciens du Louvre into his customary whiplash speeds, which are just perfect for the air of martial excitement that prevails, while the many dance-centered numbers have a muscular grace. The result in general is some of his best work to date on disc, with a special emphasis on the through line of the score. The cast is spectacular–young in demeanor, passionate, and superbly fluent in the idiom. Consider the vocal acting of Véronique Gens as the conflicted heroine Iphise (in love with her father's enemy), with its rich emotional involvement; there's an exciting chemistry between her and the title hero John Mark Ainsley, who gently tapers his vibrato into a beautifully nuanced tenor–now forlorn and outcast, now assertively heroic. Less satisfying is Laurent Naouri's inconsistently projected lower range as the antihero Anténor. The chorus has been beautifully prepared. For this recording, Minkowski uses Rameau's original 1739 version, with some interpolations of especially compelling material from the slimmed-down 1744 revision. (Thomas May)
Platée was one of the most highly regarded of Rameau's operas during his lifetime. It even pleased critics who had expressed hostility to his musical style during the Querelle des Bouffons (an argument over the relative merits of French and Italian opera). Melchior Grimm called it a "sublime work" and even Rameau's bitter enemy Jean-Jacques Rousseau referred to it as "divine". The reason for this praise may be because these critics saw Platée, a comic opera, paving the way for the lighter form of opera buffa they favoured.
This live performance of Offenbach’s witty, tuneful, swift-moving operetta smacks of the theater: in addition to some audible movement (not bothersome), the singers play off one-another in a marvelous manner, making the whole work gleam. Marc Minkowski’s field of expertise apparently is not only French Baroque–he leads with energy, charm, and an ear for Offenbach’s pointed orchestration (the brass is heard at its shiniest here) and reinstates some music dropped after the premiere (for whatever reason), including another little aria for Paris. The dialogue has been coyly updated and it works…
The subject matter could not be different, but these two releases are extraordinarily special in their respective fields. And since both are vocal works, ergo their pairing in the interest of conserving space. But which to consider first? No disrespect is meant much less implied if we throw a chapeau in the air first for a painstaking critical edition by Jean-Christophe Keck of the libretto by Meilhac and Halévy for Jacques Offenbach’s political satire disguised as a jeu de’esprit, created for Napoleon III’s Grand Exhibition of 1867. R.D. (December 2005)
The only revival from last year, Mozart's first opera seria, Mitridate re di Ponto, was staged in the courtyard of the Residenz, on a small stage that does not allow for complicated and large scale settings…
It’s an achievement when an artist can take a well-known work and interpret it freshly as if heard for the first time. This Marc Minkowski does with Handel’s Water Music by daring to challenge convention and expectation. Firstly Minkowski chooses to ignore modern musicology, which considers the work a continuous piece or a sequence of movements first in F major or D minor, then a mix of movements in D major and G major. Minkowski follows the earlier performance practice of presenting the Water Music as three suites, respectively grounded in F, G and D major which used to be called the Horn, Flute and Trumpet suites, designating the notable solo instruments. Minkowski also includes the two variant movements in F, HWV331, which are now thought to be a revision by Handel to create a freestanding concerto.
Two late and baleful tragedies by Euripides focus on the ill-starred daughter of the Greek King, Agamemnon. Will he sacrifice Iphigenia in order to secure fair winds for his voyage to Troy? In Aulis, the drama rages until she is spared. Having escaped to Tauris, Iphigenia finds herself compelled to kill her own brother before, once more, the fickle gods intervene.