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Friday, 20 June 2014

Ed Lyon and the Early Opera Company in Charpentier at the Wigmore Hall

Ed Lyon
Ed Lyon
Charpentier La Descente d'Orphee aux Enfers; Ed Lyon, Early Opera Company, Christian Curnyn; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 17 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Stylish and dramatic account of Charpentier's intimate operatic work.

The Early Opera Company's concert on Tuesday 17 June at the Wigmore Hall paired Marc-Antoine Charpentier's dramatic cantata La Descente de'Orphee aux Enfers H488 with his Sonata a huit, H548. In the former tenor Ed Lyon was Orphee with a vocal ensemble consisting of Sophie Junker, Marie Elliott, Katherine Manley, William Berger, Zachary Wilder, Daniel Auchincloss and Callum Thorpe, with Christian Curnyn leading the orchestra of the Early Opera Company from the harpsichord.

Christian Curnyn
Christian Curnyn
Charpentier's Sonate a huit is one of his few surviving instrumental works, here played by an ensemble of two violins (Catherine Martin and Tuomo Suni), two flute (Katy Bricher and Georgia Browne), two violas da gamba (Reiko Ichise and Emilia Benjamin), Emily Ashton on bass violin, Thomas Dunford on theorbo and Christian Curnyn on harpsichord.

The work opened with a poised Grave which had a seductive intertwining of flutes and violins. The next two movements gave the viola da gamba a chance to show off and the bass violin's chance came in the following two. In all these four movements, the violins and flutes were silenced, giving the rich tones of the lower instruments space to shine. All combined virtuoso playing with highly civilised style. The remaining four movements utilised the whole ensemble and were full of poised solos and attractively busy textures. Definitely a work to listen to again, and here in a performance of immense style and appeal.


Charpentier's La Descente d'Orphee aux Enfers is part dramatic cantata, part opera, part serenata. It was written during his period in the service of Madme de Guise, one of the richest women in France whose court was a haven for Charpentier from the dominance of Lully at the Royal Court. The work may not be complete, it finishes with Orphee and Eurydice leaving Hades without the final denoument of him fatally turning back to look at Eurydice. But it makes a highly satisfying whole as it is, concentrating on the power of music as Orphee's song not only influences Plutone and Proserpine but also soothes the denizens of Hades who beg him to stay longer.

The title role was taken by tenor Ed Lyon. He was supported by an ensemble of soloists who not only sang the remaining roles, but sang the chorus and ensembles too. The result, accompanied by the same forces as the Sonate a huit was a finely intimate performance of the sort which you imagine Mme de Guise enjoyed. Charpentier's manuscript labels the roles with the performers' Christian names, giving an idea of the warmth and closeness of Mme de Guise's ensemble.

Sophie Junker was Daphne, Enone and Proserpine, Marie Elliott was Arethuze, Katherine Manley was Euridice, William Berger was Apollon and Titye, Zachary Wilder was Ixion, Daniel Auchinloss was Tantare and Callum Thorpe was Pluton,

The first part of act one was dominated by Katherine Manley's stylish, poised and richly characterful Eurydice. She was supported by Junker, Elliott and a chorus of nymphs (made up of Junker, Elliott and Zachary Wilder!). The structure was fluid, with solos interleaved with ensembles and choruses to make a single flexible whole. After Eurydice's death, Ed Lyon's had a profoundly expressive solo as Orphee before he was persuaded to enter hell by William Berger as a well modulated Apollon. Much of the music seemed to have and underlying feel of dance rhythms, which the sprung performance from the Early Opera Company brought out nicely.

Act two was rightly dominated by Lyon's Orphee, as he attempted to persuade Pluton to release Eurydice. Here, Charpentier was obviously interested in creating dualities between earth and hell, as his writing for Eurydice and an ensemble of nymphs was paralleled in act two by his writing for Orphee and an ensemble consisting of three men, William Berger, Zachary Wilder and Daniel Auchincloss playing three denizens of hell, Titye, Ixon and Tantale. Another highly expressive device was the way that Orphee's refrain Ah! Laisse-toi toucher a ma douleur extreme was repeated three times during Orphee's long solo. But Charpentier's biggest coup was to have Orphee accompanied by an ensemble of three violas da gamba and theorbo. And the instrumentalists created some magical textures, complementing Lyon's stylish performance.

Lyon has been singing French baroque music for some time and does so with considerable style. He also sings other repertoire and admirably combines the two. His voice has developed in firmness and volume but still combined with superb style. Callum Thorpe made a wonderfully dark and resonant Pluton, his voice creating exactly the right sort of commanding sound, complemented by Sophie Junker's expressive Proserpine. This was very much a rich, full bodied burgundy of a performance as Lyon was well supported by stylish yet vibrant performances from the other soloists, Christian Curnyn and the orchestra.

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