Tuesday 31 October 2023

Engaging & involving: Christophe Rousset & Les Talens Lyriques release Thésée as their 12th Lully opera album

Lully: Thésée; Mathias Vidal, Karine Deshayes, Deborah Cachet, Philippe Estephe, Benedicte Tauran, Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset; Aparté
Lully: Thésée; Mathias Vidal, Karine Deshayes, Deborah Cachet, Philippe Estephe, Benedicte Tauran, Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset; Aparté 

One of Quinault's finest librettos and some of Lully's most varied and imaginative music in a performance that is wonderfully responsive and stylish, with a natural flow and elegance to the drama

Lully and Quinault's Thésée was the third of their tragédie en musique, and it has particular significance in that it was the first such to be supported by King Louis XIV. Thésée was presented as part of the Carnival celebrations at court in 1675, its premiere delayed so that it could also be a celebration of the French victory at Turckheim in the war with the Dutch Republic. Following the premiere, at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, it went on to have 18 more performances before being given in Paris in April 1675 and there were regular performances during the later 1670s with revivals continuing throughout the 18th century, though for the later revivals the score and libretto were adjusted for modern taste. Quinault's libretto, one of his finest, was used as the basis for Handel's Italian opera, Teseo premiered in London in 1713.

As part of their continuing exploration of Lully's operas, Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques have recorded Lully's Thésée (their 12th Lully opera album)on the Aparté label with Mathias Vidal as Thésée, Karine Deshayes as Médée, Deborah Cachet as Églé, Philippe Estephe as Égée and Benedicte Tauran as Minerve.

The plot concerns Thésée's early life. Princess Églé, who has been raised by King Égée of Athens, is in love with Thésée, but Égée wishes to marry Églé himself, whilst Médée is in love with Thésée. Thésée is eventually revealed as Égée's son, Églé admits her love for him, Médée is furious and tries to kill him. Médée is, however, the ultimate bad girl of opera and rather than getting her comeuppance, departs, furious, in a chariot drawn by flying dragons.

The work is one of Lully and Quinault's most engaging, with a remarkable variety in the drama. So that, in Act One, where we have the exposition of plot with Égée and Églé, plus Églé's confidante Cleone and her suitor, Arcas, but interrupted by repeated choruses of warriors, creating something more striking than often the case in Lully's operas. Despite the constraints of the genre, with the need for grand ensemble scenes with ballets, there is plenty of scope to explore the characters' inner feelings. And in Act Four, for instance, when Églé has to pretend to not love Thésée in order to shelter them from Médée's violence, the drama unfolds in a series of dramatic dialogues, fluid recitatives, ariosos and short arias without any large-scale set pieces.

What you take away from this recording is the superb sense of naturalism that the performers bring to the genre. The recitative, of which there is plenty, has a natural flow to it, well paced and with an innate sense of style and drama, which the instrumental incidentals and dance movements flow equally well. The result is engaging and involving, you can't help but be drawn in, whilst never departing from a very 18th century sense of style. The characters go through extremes of emotion, but the singers ensure that their performances remain within 18th century confines.

The most memorable character is, of course, Médée and Karine Deshayes is terrific. At the opening of Act Two, she considers the disturbances love brings here in music at once tender and moving, whilst at the end of the act she is far more vexed in vivid arioso. Her aria at the opening of Act Five, when she decides to take her revenge is notable for its lovely sense of style. She might not chew the scenery, yet Deshayes imbues the character with inner emotions, and of course her final words are vividly done. Rousset and the orchestra conjure her entry vivid in the orchestral music that alternates with her dramatic recitative, and a lively chorus.

Thésée is something of a passive character, you rather wonder at the way he inspires all these women. Mathis Vidal manages to bring a vivid heroic cast to his dialogue, and though he perhaps lacks the real ease of some haute contre, in his moment of introspection in Act Four, Vidal is finely expressive. Deborah Cachet makes a lovely, stylish Églé, almost succeeding in making goodness interesting. This is a large, varied role, though and Cachet gets to show her metal when she stands up to Médée in Acts Three and Four. Philippe Estephe makes an upright Égée, and he and Deshayes have a lovely scene in Act Two, when the former lovers part amicably. It is a relatively small role, and after Act Two, Estephe does not reappear until the dramas in Act Five, in which he vividly participates.

The smaller roles are very well taken, and it is often the smaller characters who have the engaging numbers, like the two shepherdesses (Marie Lys and Thais Rai-Westphal) in Act Four, and of course one must not forget Minerve (Benedicte Tauran) who makes a small but important and dramatic intervention at the end. Marie Lys and Guilhem Worms, as Cleone and Arcas, with Thais Rai-Westphal as Dorine, provide the important dramatic support as the smaller roles in the drama, again with their admirable moments in the spotlight.

With an orchestra of some 30 players, the sounds of the grander moments are wonderfully luxuriant, but Rousset never luxuriates too much, his Lully is presented with great style and elan, along with a superb sense of the dance that was implicit in much of the music. 

Along with Armide, Thésée remains one of my favourite Lully operas and one that seems to lend itself well to the modern stage. This is the work's first major recording since 2007, and I do hope that it might tempt companies into considering a staging, but suspect that the hope is a vain one.

Thésée: Mathias Vidal
Médée: Karine Deshayes
Eglée: Déborah Cachet
Cléone, Cérès, une bergère: Marie Lys
Minerve, la Grande Prêtresse de Minerve, une divinité: Bénédicte Tauran
Dorine, Vénus, une bergère, une divinité: Thaïs Raï-Westphal
Bacchus, un Plaisir, un jeu, un berger, un vieillard, une divinité: Robert Getchell
un Plaisir, un jeu, un vieillard, un combattant, une divinité: Fabien Hyon
Egée: Philippe Estèphe
Arcas, Mars, un Plaisir, un jeu: Guilhem Worms
Chœur de chambre de namur
Les Talens Lyriques
Direction: Christophe Rousset
Recorded by Little Tribeca, 3-5 March 2023, Seine Musicale, Boulogne-Billancourt
AP325 3CDs [61, 47, 53]

Support Planet Hugill: Buy Lully's Thésée from Amazon

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Two Cities: Ned Rorem in Paris & New York - centenary celebrations at London Song Festival - concert review
  • Exploring his musical roots: conductor Duncan Ward chats about his jazz-inspired, Eastern European & French music coming up with the London Symphony Orchestra - interview
  • Piatti Quartet launches its Rush Hour Lates at Kings Place with Dvorak and Schubert - concert review
  • Stories in music in Oxford: visual inspirations from the Mendelssohn siblings, William Blake in song & image, vivid story-telling from Wolf & Mörike - concert review
  • Golden Jubilee: Pianist Piers Lane joins Norwich-based orchestra, the Academy of St Thomas for celebrations  - concert review
  • Fierce & intense: Peter Konwitschny's production of La traviata returns to ENO with a mesmerising account of the title role from Nicole Chevalier - opera review
  • Long may they continue! Kronos Quartet's celebratory 50th anniversary concert at the Barbican - concert review
  • A little bit crazy yet done with verve, imagination and style: The Masque of Might, David Pountney's Purcellian masque at Opera North - opera review
  • What's not to love? Glamour and heart as Puccini's little swallow returns to Opera North - opera review
  • Pastoral charm with an engaging sense of styleHandel's Clori, Tirsi e Fileno from the English Concert at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month