François REBEL (1701–1775) François FRANCOEUR (1698–1787)
Zélindor, roi des Sylphes (1745) [47.09]
Suite from La Trophée (1745) [14.27]
Zélindor – Jean-Paul Fouchecourt (tenor); Zirphe – Heidi Grant Murphy (soprano); Zulim – William Sharp (baritone); Nymph – Ah Young Hong (soprano); La Muse [La Trophée] - Heidi Grant Murphy (soprano); Le Génie [La Trophée] - Jean-Paul Fouchecourt (tenor)
The Opera Lafayette Orchestra and Chorus/Ryan Brown
rec. Music Center at Strathmore, North Bethesda, Maryland, USA, 15-16 October 2007
NAXOS 8.660224 [61.36]

Rebel and Francoeur's divertissement Zélindor, roi des Sylphes does not seem to have been performed since the end of the 18th century and the performances by Opera Lafayette, on which this recording is based, were the work's modern première.

Francoeur and Rebel met in their teens when they were both members of the Paris Opera orchestra. Their friendship and professional association lasted a lifetime and culminated in their joint directorship of the Opera from 1757.

Along the way, they wrote a series of opera divertissements, all produced jointly. According to the 18th century musicologist Jean-Benjamin de Laborde, Rebel wrote the dramatic bits and Francoeur the lyrical ones. But when taxed, the composers said that their pieces were by both of them. And they do seem to have hit upon a consistency of approach. Listening to Zélindor or the suite from La Trophée on this disc, the music sounds uniform throughout.

Judging by the photographs in the CD booklet, Opera Lafayette's performances were charmingly staged and it is a shame that a DVD could not have been produced as this is music that cries out for staging and for dance. The plot of Zélindor is slight. Zélindor (Jean-Paul Fouchecourt) is King of the Sylphs and is in love with a mortal, Zirphe (Heidi Grant Murphy). He needs to test her before finally agreeing to marry her. Along the way there are the usual dance episodes, attractive without showing any of the drama and invention of Rameau. The whole manages to stretch to some 50 minutes.

The work was first performed before King Louis XV in 1745 and went on to be popular at the Paris Opera. In 1753 Madame de Pompadour performed the role of Zélindor (suitably transposed up) in her private theatre at Versailles. It seems to have been a work popular for private performances. Voltaire's mistress, Madame du Chatelet, sang the role of Zirphe at performances put on by the Duchesse de Maine. Voltaire himself admired the libretto by Moncrif.

The work is indeed charming and attractively melodic, but lacks the depths and the dramatic vividness that is found in the best of Lully and Rameau.

Jean-Paul Fouchecourt is stylishly excellent in the title role. Heidi Grant Murphy charms as his lover Zirphe, though there were moments when her voice seemed to want to apply more vibrato than is needed. They are well supported by William Sharp and Ah Young Hong.

The Opera Lafayette Orchestra and Chorus are not Les Arts Florissants, but under Ryan Brown's direction they manage to find charm and crisp pungency in the music.

Zélindor is accompanied by an attractive suite from La Trophée, another divertissement premièred the same year as Zélindor.

The CD booklet contains the libretto in French and English, an informative essay and a selection of photographs from the Opera Lafayette production.

This is a performance that successfully evokes the charm - and the shallowness - of Louis XV's Versailles.

Robert Hugill