Thursday 14 September 2023

Tragédie lyrique given with great sympathy and style: Passion from Véronique Gens with Les Surprises, Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas at Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival

Passion - Véronique Gens, Les Surprises, Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas - Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival (Photo:
Passion - Véronique Gens, Les Surprises, Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas - Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival (Photo:

Passion: Lully, Henry Desmarest, André Cardinal Destouches, Rebel, Charpentier; Véronique Gens, Les Surprises,  Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas; Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival at Ordenskirche St Georgen

Immense style and mesmerising performances in the wonderful selection of music from tragédies lyriques by Lully and his contemporaries

Véronique Gens recorded her programme Passion with Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas and Les Surprises in 2021. It is an exploration of music written for two singers who inspired Lully, Mademoiselle Saint Christophe and Marie Le Rochois, focussing on music by Lully and his younger contemporaries.

Véronique Gens, Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas and Les Surprises brought Passion to the Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival and performed it on Sunday 10 September 2023 in the splendour of the Ordenskirche St Georgen, Bayreuth. Véronique Gens was joined by an instrumental ensemble of eleven, directed from the harpsichord and organ by Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas with a vocal ensemble of five.

Divided into five acts, each with a theme, the programme explored Lully's music from Persée, Proserpine, Armide, Atys, Amadis, Alceste along with his dance music, plus Henry Desmarest's Circé and La Diane de Fontainebleau, André Cardinal Destouches' Les Elements, Pascal Collasse's Achille et Polyxène and Thétis et Pélée, Rebel's Le Ballet de la Paix and Charpentier's Médée. Each act flowed continuously in the manner of a tragédie lyrique, with Gens' solos focusing on a series of strong women.

Act One, Malheuerese Mère, began with the overture to Lully's Persée, the band small but strong in sound and making the music vividly involving. Then a fluidly expressive account of the elegant passacaille from Desmarest's Circé, with the sequence closing with music from Lully's Proserpine with Cérès lamenting her fate as unhappy mother in music that began slow and intense before moving to something vivid, full of colour and movement. Throughout, Gens created a wonderfully fluid, flexible line which was all about conveying the intensity of the text.

Passion - Véronique Gens, Les Surprises, Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas - Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival (Photo:
Passion - Véronique Gens, Les Surprises, Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas - Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival (Photo:

For Act Two, Armide abandonné, we began with Lully's Armide the grand and vivid orchestral introduction leading to some wonderfully dramatic recitative where Armide abandoned herself to love of Roland, followed by Cybele lamenting being deceived by hope from Atys in a gentle, touching air. Interspersed between and after these two were instrumental movements moving from elegant vigour to sombre and intimate, and ending with some delightful music from La bourgeois gentilhomme

Act Three, L'appel des Enfers began with Amadis, Acabonne's strong and stately incantation full of innate power, followed by the opera's gently lyrical prelude. Juno's request to ''calm your despairs' from Collasse's Achille et Polyxène moved from expressive elegance to drama with some vivid orchestral interruptions, leading to a terrific tempest from the same composer's Thétis et Pélée, where we really got to enjoy the wide range of percussion in the ensemble.

After the call of the underworld, quiet sleep and fatal death, Act Four was Tranquille sommeil, funeste morte. We began with the elegantly expressive yet intimate Air de la Nuit from Lully's Le triumphe de l'Amour, followed a beautifully realised chorus by Desmarest, then music from Lully's Alceste, sombre and intense yet suddenly vivid at the very end

Act Five turned its attention to Medée furieuse, the gently elegant recorder music from Destouches' Les eléments moving on to Charpentier's Medée, sober and dignified with a richly worked orchestral contribution, leading to the darkly intense 'Noires filles du styx' from the same opera. The whole ended with the vivid sound world of Rebel and Francoeur's Le ballet de la Paix.

Throughout, we enjoyed with rich palate of instrumental colours and textures, all rendered with great style and imagination. Often Véronique Gens felt like primus inter pares, her vocal line part of a whole rather than a spot-lit star soloist. Whatever the mood, Gens brought great style and intensity to the music, making us aware that words were paramount and that the music was there to support the French prosody. This was tragédie lyrique given with great sympathy and style, and a mesmerising command of the vocal line from Gens.

Passion - Véronique Gens, Les Surprises, Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas - Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival (Photo:
Passion - Véronique Gens, Les Surprises, Louis-Noel Bestion de Camboulas - Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival (Photo:

We had a pair of encores, first an intensely grand Chaconne by Lully that featured all the performers and then a lively instrumental dance.

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