Jean-Baptiste Lully's tragédie en musique Persée was first performed in 1682 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris, though this revival by Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel celebrates a much later performance given at L'Opéra Royal du Château de Versailles on May 16, 1770. Most period performances are typically derived from the instrumentation and practices of a specific era, yet Lully's period is not re-created here, nor the sound of the court opera of Louis XIV, but instead, an updated Persée that was presented for the nuptials of the future Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, some 88 years later.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643 - February 24, 1704) was a French composer of the Baroque era.
He was a prolific and versatile composer, producing music of the highest quality in several genres. His mastery in the composition of sacred vocal music was recognized and acknowledged by his contemporaries.
While visually handsome, the amount of stage magic in this very commendable production of Lully's Persée (composed 1682) is fairly minimal: Mercure and Venus appear, appropriately enough, on elaborate flying clouds, but dramatic tension evaporates when Andromède is menaced by a sea monster that would not have been out of place in an episode of The Clangers. Musically there is much to admire: singing and playing are enjoyably idiomatic.
The work reflects the tendency of an age of changes which was torn between a nostalgia for the times of the reign of Louis XIV and the cult of modernity and progress. Thus, it overlays on the barely- altered Jean Racine text of Andromaque (1667) a music already suffused with Romantic aspirations where literally unheard-of tones and accents clothe the passions of the Classical Greek age in a new guise. Never performed again after its initial production Andromaque today reveals all the modernity of the French school on the eve of the French Revolution and imposes itself without doubt as one of the most singular and unexpected links between the Baroque and Romanticism.
First performed in Paris in 1747 – a time when the tragédie lyrique, the genre which Lully had brought to its peak, was already in evident decline – Daphnis et Chloé is a pastorale within which lurks a ballet with a bergère storyline, and which is blessed with a plot which, although mythological in content, is of great lightness; this neatly matched the taste of the nobility of the time and even more so that of Madame de Pompadour with its recreation of an idealized pastoral world… By then the taste for Boismortier’s music had gone stale… until now!
For his latest recording directing Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet has revived Sémélé by Marin Marais – the final opera by one of the leading composers from the reign of Louis XIV. Known above all for his compositions for the viola da gamba, Marais the composer was at the same time the author of a number of tragédies lyriques which he wrote for the Académie royale de Musique. Even to this day it has only been Alcyone which has attracted the attention of music lovers and musicians. Yet Sémélé – first performed in 1709 – arrives now full of music to charm and seduce the listener: a sparkling prologue honouring Bacchus, a set of arias with a freshly-minted appeal, a marvellously inventive diabolical scene, divertissements rich in character; all this leading up to an earthquake scene memorably anticipating the later work of Rameau. For all lovers of glorious baroque music, here is now the opportunity to discover and enjoy a masterpiece which has lain in theshadows for the last three centuries.
Working in collaboration with the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles and the Palazzetto Bru Zane (Centre de Musique Romantique Française), Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel carry on with their journey of rediscovering forgotten operatic works, this time pitting themselves against music from the close of the Age of Enlightenment, in Andromaque (1778), the single tragédie lyrique written by André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry (1741- 1813). Known above all for his light opéras- comiques, at the end of his career the composer turned towards an increasingly heroic style in the vein of Méhul and Cherubini.
Following on from Callirhoé (André Cardinal Destouches), Sémélé (Marin Marais) and Proserpine (Jean-Baptiste Lully), three important tragédies lyriques rescued from oblivion by Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel, Glossa is now restoring to the catalogue and within its collection of French Baroque opera, a recording made in Metz in December 2001: Daphnis et Chloé, the work which was to add Joseph Bodin de Boismortier to the roll call of the history of music in a most determined fashion.
An icon of French Romanticism thanks to the enduring popularity of his operas Faust and Roméo et Juliette, Charles Gounod competed three times for the prestigious Prix de Rome between 1837 and 1839. Thus he composed three unpublished cantatas for soloists and orchestra, including Marie Stuart et Rizzio and La Vendetta, which he never had the opportunity to hear in performance. Revealed for the first time, these three cantatas, fine examples of French Romanticism, show a young composer with a remarkable flair for opera. In the end Fernand won him the coveted prize, carrying with it the privilege of a three-year stay (from 1840) at the Villa Medici in Rome. While there he produced several sacred compositions, which have also remained unknown until now. His splendid Messe vocale for unaccompanied choir, written in a neo-Palestrinian style, deserves a place on the programme of every vocal ensemble.