four disc set from Erato opens with Gluck’s three act lyric
tragedy Iphigénie en Aulide
his first original ‘French’ opera
for the fashionable Paris Opéra. In 1773 Gluck had been
persuaded that he could establish himself at the Paris
Opéra (also known as L
du Roullet, an attaché at the French Embassy in Vienna.
Baille du Roullet provided Gluck with the libretto for Iphigénie
based on the tragedy of Racine and
founded on the play of Euripides. Initially the Director
hesitated in accepting Gluck’s
score. Fortunately he had a influential ally in Marie-Antoinette,
the Queen of France, to whom he had taught singing and
harpsichord. The first staging of Iphigénie en Aulide
at the Paris Opéra in 1774.
was to go on to have significant success in Paris writing
four specifically French operas. He was a controversial
figure often dividing opinion amongst members of Parisian
music world. Musicologist Reinhardt G. Pauly writes, “In
his Paris operas, dramatic continuity and persuasiveness
are achieved to an even greater extent. Recitatives are
free and flexible; far from being routine, they reflect
subtle differences in temperament or changes in emotional
states. Gluck’s orchestra likewise is enlisted for dramatic
purposes … In his use of the orchestra, especially, Gluck
builds on the work of his Parisian predecessor Rameau
in the Classical Period
by Reinhard G. Pauly,
Publishers: Prentice-Hall (1973, 1965) (second
edition) ISBN: 0-13-607630-0).
score to Iphigénie en Aulide
has often been heard
in the German version reworked by Richard Wagner in the
late 1846 and early 1847 for a production that he was to
stage in Dresden. Furthermore, Richard Strauss also set
himself the task of making an arrangement of Iphigénie
for a Weimar production in 1889/90. The French
version of Iphigénie en Aulide
chosen by John Eliot
Gardiner on this recording is generally the revision that
Gluck prepared for the 1775 revival of the score.
the richly varied overture to Iphigénie en Aulide
an undoubted influence on composers such as Donizetti and
Verdi, the listener is treated to a feast of splendid music.
As Agamemnon the bass-baritone José Van Dam is rich and
expressive throughout and I especially enjoyed his Act
1, Scène 1 air ‘Brilliant auteur de la lumiere
Anne Sofie Von Otter the mezzo-soprano clearly relishes
playing Queen Clytemnestre and displays smooth, flowing
and burnished tones combined with significant drama. Von
Otter is heard at her finest in the aria ‘Par un pere
cruel à al mort condamnée
’ from Act 2, Scene 4.
experienced the voice of soprano Lynne Dawson as bright
and often piercing, whilst her characterisation is moving
and expressive. Iphigénie’s
Act 3, Scene 3 air ‘Adieu,
conservez dans votre âme le souvenir de notre ardeur
a highlight of the score. The role of Achilles is played
by tenor John Aler with light and gleaming tones. Aler’s
sensitive and expressive portrayal is splendidly heard
in the Act 1, Scene 8 air ‘Cruelle, non jamais votre
insensible coere ne fut touche de mon amour
.’ I also
enjoyed the dark tones of baritone Gilles Cachemaille as
the high priest Calchas. His aria ‘Au fait des grandeurs
Act 1, Scene 4 is especially memorable.
Eliot Gardiner conducts with a sure sense of style and
polish and with exceptional security. At times I would
have preferred the music to have been driven slightly harder;
notwithstanding, these remain high calibre performances.
three act opera La Rencontre imprévue
) also known as Les Pèlerins de la Mecque
Pilgrims to Mecca
) is a form of French Opéra known
as Comédie mêlée d'ariettes
(Comedy mixed with brief
arias). The opera was first staged at the Burgtheater,
Vienna in 1764. Gluck’s libretto was written by Louis Hurtaut
Dancourt after a 1726 play by Alain-René Lesage and Jacques-Philippe
primary role as Rezia is sung by soprano Lynne Dawson.
Found imprisoned by Prince Ali in the Sultan’s harem Rezia
is bright and assured in her aria ‘Ah! qu’il est doux
de se revoir
’ from Act 2, Scene 5. I was struck by
the soprano’s especially attractive ornamentations. Tenor
Jean-Luc Viala plays Osmin the servant of Prince Ali. This
sweet-toned tenor communicates considerable passion in
his Act 1, Scene 1 aria ‘Heureux l’amant qui se depetre
was also impressed with tenor Guy de Mey in his role as
Prince Ali of Balsora. His light and vivid timbre feels
eminently suited to the high tessitura of the Act 1, Scene
5 aria ‘Je cherirai, jusqu’au trepas, l’objet céleste
’. The soprano Claudine Le Coz is highly
enthusiastic in her role as Balkis. Although sometimes
lacking in fluidity Le Coz is especially confident in her
Act 2, Scene 5 aria ‘Venez, venez, troupe brillante
role of Calendar is taken by baritone Gilles Cachemaille
who impresses with his smooth and rich timbre. In his Act
3, Scene 4 aria ‘D’une telle lachete
’ the luxuriant
tones of Cachemaille are highly expressive. Baritone Jean-Phillipe
Lafont sings the role of the painter Vertigo. Lafont’s
darkly menacing voice is splendidly characterised in the
drama-laden aria ‘C’est un torrent impetueux
Act 3, Scene 8. As Dardane, Catherine Dubosc is a bright
and attractive soprano and I also noted the creamy timbre
of soprano Sophie Marin-Degor in her role as Amine.
outstanding Orchestre de L'Opéra National de Lyon conducted
by John Eliot Gardiner deliver pleasingly sympathetic performances
that are consistently alert.
final work in the set is the three act dramatic ballet Don
or Le festin de pierre
(The feast of the
stone). The opera was first produced in 1761 at Vienna’s
Burgtheater to a stage design by the eminent Giovanni Quaglia.
On this recording John Eliot Gardiner is using a version
realised by Richard Englander.
conductor John Eliot Gardiner the English Baroque Soloists
deliver stylish and keenly observed performances on period
instruments. I was struck by the sparklingly played Sinfonia
that opens the score; Dance No. 7 is a stately gavotte
Dance No. 11 a breezy minuet
. There is a foot-tapping
character to Dance No. 19, a fandango
and a regal
quality to Dance No. 23. The light-hearted humour of Dance
No. 27 is impressive and the final Dance No. 30 is a headlong
chase of spirit and vigour.
librettos and their English translations are only available
the omission of a libretto from the accompanying booklet
is an all too common experience today and a deplorable one.
With regard to making librettos available by download: who
wants to print off 62 pages and where do you store them?
Or who wants to listen to their music sitting at a computer
or laptop following the downloaded libretto? Added to the
undoubted quality of these performances it is hard to fault
the splendid recorded sound from the Erato engineers.