For any enthusiast of Baroque music, the production of Lully's Armide at the Theatre des Champs Elysées, directed by William Christie and staged by Robert Carsen, was an exceptional event. The last and most successful collaboration between Lully and his librettist Quinault, Armide is the ideal of the genre as desired by Louis XIV: a tragic opera that achieves the perfect fusion of music, song and dance. William Christie leads the orchestra and chorus of Les Arts Florissants and a dazzling cast. Stephanie D’Oustrac is the imperious sorceress Armida, overcome by the violence of a forbidden passion.
Ulisse was one of the first operas to be written for the public stage, not for royalty. Monteverdi was in his seventies when he wrote it, yet it is a work of intense and youthful passion, as well as wisdom. At nearly three hours (in this version, anyway), it demands a lot from its audience, and seeing it at home via DVD is a great way to make its acquaintance.
This production dates from 2000; this particular live performance was recorded in the fairly intimate Théâtre de Jeu de Palme in 2002. The production is simple but eloquent.
"Last year we gave a performance here in the Teatro Real of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, this year we have Ulisse and next year Poppea. We’re no longer in Mantova and we’re no longer in the Court of the Prince. We’re in Venezia and essentially [at] the beginning of the public opera house. We’re also at the beginning of what will become opera seria, that’s to say beyond the instrumental colors, the great dances and the great pageants, [are] the beautiful effects of the singing, it’s bel-canto and so the orchestral accompaniment becomes simpler…"- from William Christie’s interview 2008 included on in the DVD
For musicians of today, Rameau is often associated with the study of music theory.а His Traitщ de l'harmonie (1722) was incredibly influential Ч and controversial Ч in its new conception of the triad as an invertible entity.а While his critics often cited his theoretical background as making him unfit for composition, his considerable success as a composer of keyboard music and, later, opera called this accusation into question.
This was William Christie's last recording for Harmonia Mundi, and it really is a pity that he only recorded five out of a total of twelve concertos, for these are superb performances in every respect. If you're looking for an excellent selection on one disc from Handel's Op. 6, then you really can't do better. On the other hand, I can't imagine anyone not wanting the whole set, and Andrew Manze and the Academy of Ancient Music, also on Harmonia Mundi, squeeze them all onto just two discs in performances every bit as fine as these. It's your call. –David Hurwitz
Familiar to UK audiences as a recitalist, Dietrich Henschel has been inexplicably neglected by this country's opera companies. You get a strong sense of what a theatrical animal he is, however, from his performance of the title role in this flawed but compelling production of L'Orfeo, filmed in Madrid last year. The subtlety of Henschel's acting matches the complexity of his vocal characterisation so that, by the end, you not only feel you've been taken on a vast journey from joy to grief and back again, but also believe that Orfeo's own music really has the power to affect both gods and nature…Tim Ashley
For his 1996 Glyndebourne staging, radical American director Peter Sellars takes George Frideric Handel’s penultimate English oratorio – a tale of self-sacrificial love between a Christian virgin and a Roman imperial bodyguard in fourth-century, enemy-occupied Antioch – and, by resetting it in modern-day America, transforms it into a timeless parable of spiritual resistance to tyranny and persecution.