When the historic Theatre du Chatelet in Paris re-opened after a period of extensive refurbishment, the first two productions mounted in the theatre were Gluck’s Alceste and Orphée et Eurydice.
Both operas were sung in their French versions and were mounted and designed by Robert Wilson and conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. This was the first time Wilson and Gardiner had collaborated and their individual credentials combined to produce an exceptional result.
Rebelling against the increasingly formulaic operas of the time, Christoph Willibald Gluck's "reformist" opera Alceste (1767) was a successful attempt to return to a purer form of musical drama. It is highly appropriate that this 1999 production of the revised 1776 Paris version should be conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner, with the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir, the same forces responsible for many fine Bach performances equally emphasizing character and text. In setting the tragic story of the profound love between Queen Alceste and her husband King Admète, Gluck provided a score of austere, rending beauty.
Star countertenor Philippe Jaroussky continues his exploration of operatic settings of the Orpheus myth with the most famous of the many operas inspired by the story of the Greek poet who searches for his dead wife in the Underworld: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. It contains one of the world's best-loved operatic arias, Orfeo's restrained, but moving lament, 'Che farò senza Euridice'.
On May 14, 1763, Bologna’s Teatro Comunale opened with the world premiere of Il trionfo di Clelia. Completed a year after Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck’s setting of Metastasio’s story of romantic fidelity put to the test against the background of the Siege of Rome, was tailored both to display the new theatre’s capacity for spectacle (Act II calls for the collapse of a bridge and a heroic swim across the rising waters of the Tiber) and a cast hand-picked for their fioritura (embellishment of a melodic line). Thus while musicologists may cherish Il trionfo di Clelia for its pivotal role in the composer’s progress from the gilded cage of opera seria to the grand austerity of his reform operas, the rest of us can enjoy an inventive score.
It is extremely difficult nowadays to reproduce the sound castrato singers where capable of doing at their time and, too often, one finds voices that are too nasal or merely good falsettos. But in many of the performances in this CD one can let the imagination wander and almost imagine you are in the 18th century. In particular, the performance of James Bowmann is outstanding. Also very special the performace of Charpentier 'Salve Regina' by Gerard Lesne and the others; this of course enhanced by the exquisite sensibility of the director Jordi Saval. Also, the duo of Derek Lee Ragin and Ewa Mallas-Godlewska in 'Son qual nave ch'agitata' is so exquisite it brings tears to your eyes. (Carmen E. Alvarez)
A conductor who spent most of his career in tiny Luxembourg is hardly a musician one would expect to become well known, but Louis de Froment grew extremely familiar to record collectors thanks to his long association with the Vox label. Born in Toulouse, he studied at the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prize in conducting in 1948. After graduation, Froment conducted one of the French radio orchestras and, from 1950 to 1954, served as music director at the casinos in Cannes, Deauville, and Vichy.