Is it fair to say that most born Frenchmen have considered themselves exceedingly fortunate in their nativity? Moi? I didn't enjoy such luck. Neither did Jean-Baptiste Lully, the favorite of Louis XIV and thus the tyrant of French music for thirty-four years. Lully was born in Florence in 1632, but carried to France as a youthful Ganymede; he entered the service of the Sun King in 1653 as a dancer, and he rose to a position of monopoly influence in Louis XIV's court despite his flagrant debauchery and libertine sexuality. Just as Louis declared, that 'he was the State,' Lully could well have said "French Music, it's me!"
Guillaume Bouzignac (1690?-1743?) was not attached to the French Royal Court. His music was not published by Ballard, who held a royal monopoly on musical publication. He MAY have been a choirboy in Narbonne, a master of the choirboys in Grenoble, a musical servant of Henri Montmorency, governor of Languedoc at the time of the wars against the Huguenots, and a person of musical importance in the city of Tours, where the manuscript of these motets was discovered in 1905. That covers almost everything that's known about the composer outside of the very specific information about his musical thought contained in his works.
This superb recording of the compositions of Lully for the court of Louis XIV is almost perfect in delivery; evoking the sophistication, wit, grandeur, humor that would be required to entertain the most demanding of monarchs amidst the most sophisticated court in Europe. The character of Lully is fascinating. Lully was an Italian actor, dancer and musician who becomes the central creative force in music theatre in the court of the Sun King. However it is the flawless music that is contained in this recording that should be heard. With use of period instruments William Christie and Les Arts Florissants paint a range of compositions from various operas and periods in Lully's career in the court of the Sun King.
“Christie's love-affair with Hippolyte informs every note of this mesmerising performance, transporting the listener from enchanting pastoral scenes to ominous, Stygian shores.” BBC Music Magazine
It was only a matter of time before William Christie got around to recording Mozart's delightful 1782 singspiel, and the results are very happy indeed. Period instruments are just right for the raucous "Turkish" music Mozart composed for Entführung, and they go very nicely with the light voices Christie has chosen as well. Most successful is the Belmonte of tenor Ian Bostridge, already famous for his lieder singing.
harpentier’s Médée is one of the glories of the Baroque. Medea’s betrayal by Jason, her comprehensive revenge and the plight of those caught up in this epic tragedy prompted Charpentier to compose music of devastating power. Transcending the constraints of the Lullian tragédie lyrique, he produced characterisations of astonishing complexity and invested vast stretches of music with a dramatic pace and a harmonic richness rivalled among contemporaries only by Purcell. The electrifying exchanges of the third act, mingling pathos with extreme violence, alone put Charpentier on the same imaginative level as Rameau and Berlioz. The machinations of the fourth act and the dénouement in the fifth maintain the same captivating impetus.
While Freemasonry's secrecy has always aroused distrust, its enlightened principles and belief in virtue, liberty, fraternity, and equality have attracted large numbers of intellectuals and artists; one of its most famous adherents was Mozart. However, his opera The Magic Flute was not the first to be inspired by its teachings but was preceded in 1749 by Rameau's Zoroastre. Its initial reception was so cool that Rameau and his librettist, Louis de Cahusac (a prominent Mason) undertook extensive revisions. The new version was produced–by coincidence or fate?–in 1756, the year of Mozart's birth, and became a great success.
Gluck‘s wonderful but neglected 1774 opera Iphigénie en Tauride, inspired by the Greek legend, is treated with forceful and convincing simplicity in Klaus Guth‘s revolutionary production staged at the Zurich Opera House. The psychological drama in a tense atmosphere of fears and traumas is underlined by Guth‘s use of huge masks and enclosed spaces. Conductor William Christie and his typically transparent but never cold orchestral sound perfectly match the descriptive elements in Gluck’s score, while the Armenian mezzosoprano Juliette Galstian as a fabulously good Iphigénie, the leading American opera baritone Rodney Gilfry as Oreste and the deceased South African tenor Deon van der Walt as Pylade head a superb cast.
In Glyndebourne’s first-ever staging of a opera by Rameau, director Jonathan Kent presents a production which, in his own words, ‘strives to appeal to every sense and show audiences how engrossing and musically ravishing French Baroque opera can be’. Rameau’s inventive take on Racine’s great tragedy Phèdre is brought to life by Paul Brown’s colourful and elegant designs and Ashley Page’s playful choreography. Ed Lyon and Christiane Karg give captivating performances as the titular young lovers, while Sarah Connolly, making a welcome return to Glyndebourne, ‘invests Phaedra with both grandeur and a desperately human vulnerability’ (The Independent). Leading exponent of early music William Christie ‘sets an exhilarating pace, galvanising the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to playing of tremendous panache’ (The DailyTelegraph).
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.