Doubtless history has been unkind to many composers. As unkind to Manuel García , truly, as it has been to Joaquín Gaztambide, Cristóbal Oudrid or Rafael Calleja. Doubtless, yes. But there's one point which should be clarified. Manuel García has been stigmatized as the “lost link” between Mozart and Rossini, an intermediate stepping stone towards the “Rossini Style” (!!), and yesterday's Teatro de la Zarzuela offering was duly defined by critics and opera buffs as “ Rossinian ”.
French composers of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries delighted in adorning their pieces with foreign, in particular, Italian, elements, often calling attention to them in the titles. Among the most subtle transalpine stylists was Francois Couperin, who was refining the ‘French style’ and publishing his legacy in the form of harpsichord and chamber music. His contemporary, Marin Marais, contributed his own subtle essay in the exotic, a “Suitte d’un gout etranger” published in his Fourth Book of Pieces de une et a trois viole (1717), nearly 30 years after his First Book (the epitome of French viol playing) had appeared.
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.
Les fêtes de Paphos (The Festivals of Paphos) is an opéra-ballet in three acts (or entrées) by the French composer Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville. The work was described as a ballet héroïque on the title page of the printed score. Each act had a different librettist. Les fêtes de Paphos was first performed at the Académie royale de musique, Paris on 9 May 1758 and was a popular success. Mondonville recycled material from two of his previous operas for the first two acts, namely Erigone (1747) and Vénus et Adonis (1752), both originally composed for Madame de Pompadour's Théâtre des Petits Cabinets. The title of the work is explained in the preface to the printed score. Paphos was a city in Cyprus sacred to Venus, the goddess of love. "Reunited on the island of Paphos, Venus, Bacchus and Cupid decide to enliven their leisure in such a pleasant location by celebrating their first loves, and this gives rise to the following three acts and the title Les fêtes de Paphos."
"Rescue operas are not what one is used to associating with Handel, yet that, in a sense, is what this is. Costanza, a princess of Navarre, has been shipwrecked on Cyprus, where she now awaits the arrival of her betrothed, Richard the Lionheart (yes, the same). The island's tyrannical ruler, Isacio, fancies her for himself, however, and spends the entire opera trying to prevent the intended union from going ahead, first by sending Riccardo his daughter Pulcheria instead, and, when that has failed thanks to Pulcheria's brave entreaties, by imprisoning Costanza and declaring war. Only with his final defeat by Riccardo's army, aided by Pulcheria's own fiancé Oronte, do things finally turn out happily.
The Baroque music ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, under Christophe Rousset's baton, performs Rameau's Les Indes galantes at the Opéra National de Bordeaux in a sensual and politically engaged production directed by Laura Scozzi, on the occasion of the festivities organized to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Jean-Philippe Rameau's death.
Christophe Rousset's collection of overtures to 17 of Rameau's operas and opéra-ballets, played by his original instrument ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, won a 1998 Gramophone award for best Baroque non-vocal CD, and it's easy to hear why this outstanding performance was recognized. The ensemble plays with unflagging liveliness and brilliant, clean tone. The rhythmic vitality Rousset coaxes from his players is toe-tappingly engaging; at the same time, he maintains a fluidity that avoids metronomic rigidity. The tempos he takes sometimes have a breathtaking fleetness that leaves the listener marveling at the players' virtuosity. The overtures are mostly brief, usually four or five minutes long, but they each contain a world of volatility and drama. Many of them are wonderfully eccentric, with startling juxtapositions and exotic orchestral combinations that keep them from ever settling into any kind of easy predictability.