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Johann Christian BACH (1735-1782)
Amadis de Gaule (1779) [131:29]
Philippe Do - Amadis; Katia Velletaz - Oriane; Pierre-Yves Pruvot - Arcalaüs; Hjördis Thébault - Arcabonne; Liliana Faraon - Urgande/Une Coryphée; Martin Mikuš - La Haine/L’Ombre d’Arban Canil/Quatrième Coryphée; Lucie Slepánková - La Discorde/Deuzième Coryphée; Andrea Brožáková - Première Coryphée; Dusan Rüžička - Troisième Coryphée
Solmenta Naturali Bratislava, Musica Florea Prague, Ensemble Vocal Musica Florea/Didier Talpain
rec. Stani Opera de Prague, 27-30 November 2010
EDICIONES SINGULARES ES1007 / ISBN 978-84-939-6860-1 [67:10 + 64:19] 

Issued as a hardbound book, the Amadis de Gaule of Ediciones Singulares may differ in format from most opera recordings, but it has much to offer. This 2012 release makes available a 2010 performance of J. C. Bach’s late opera in a unique and innovative format. The musical content seems dwarfed by the text. The 142 pages of text contain not only the libretto in French and English, but also a series of essays about the work, with the two discs inserted into the front and back covers.
The contents are offered first in French (pp. 15-60) then in English (pp. 62-103), with an introduction, a discussion of the textual source in the section entitled “Plot and Libretto”, and an article on the reception of the work (“An Ambiguous Reception?”) by Pierre Série. Add to this two essays by Alexandre Dratwicki, one on “1778-1779:The Academy in Turmoil” and “The First Performances of Amadis de Gaule”. Then there’s a consideration of the opera in the context of J. C. Bach’s oeuvre, “Amadis de Gaule: The Culmination of an Operatic Career” by Didier Talpain, the conductor of this recording. The synopsis follows (pp. 105-108), with the full libretto (pp. 109-134) preceding the track list (pp. 140-142). The premise for the extensive text is the invitation to reconsider this important opera as a means of perceiving the tragédie lyrique after Rameau’s death, as exemplified in this intriguing score. The libretto was adapted from the version of Amadis previously set by Lully.
Those familiar with Cervantes’ Don Quixote will recognize Amadis de Gaule among the books that the purportedly poisoned the latter hero’s mind, yet saved from the fire since it was the best of its kind (Don Quixote, Part 1, Chapter 6). The tales of this fictional knight resemble those of such heroes as the one depicted in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. In Quinault’s libretto, the sorceress Arcabonne schemes with her brother Arcalaüs to trap the knight Amadis and succeeds in doing so. Yet even in captivity Amadis’s heroism emerges, as he endeavors to rescue other prisoners. Yet Amadis’s altruism saves him, with the fairy Urgande serving as a kind of dea ex machina to facilitate the triumphant ending.
Bach’s score brings out the situations depicted in the libretto, with music that immediately conveys the emotions. Arcabonne’s longing for Amadis emerges readily in the opening number, and the exchange with Arcalaüs underscores the text.
The performance is uniformly solid throughout. Intensity is built exquisitely in the middle of the second act, with the exchange between Arcabonne and Amadis leading to the latter’s air “Ah! Si votre âme est attendre”. Philippe Do is a good fit for the style of the piece and matches the demands of the text. If his voice seems overly forward this seems to stem from the engineering, since the line and projection have a fine, natural quality. Yet Do has also performed Debussy’s Pelleas et Mélisande and Verdi’s Rigoletto, two works which differ significantly from Amadis. At this point in Amadis, Hjördis Thébault responds to Do’s Amadis with complementary intensity. This sets up the dramatic situation which results in the episode of the captives at the end of the second act.
The third act has equally intensive music, with Pierre-Yves Pruvot’s execution of Arcalaüs’s aria “Dissipons ces vaines alarmes” given appropriate virtuosity. This piece establishes a context for Arcabonne’s scene, touching in itself, as the opera moves towards its conclusion with the climactic trio “Aimez-vous” framed by two choruses. The work ends with celebratory choral pieces interspersed with instrumental dances, which Didier Talpain interprets with style. The recording does not end there, but also includes alternate versions of several numbers in the opera, thus adding to the value of this sumptuous edition. 
This certainly bears out the contention that the style J. C. Bach chose in Amadis persisted through the late 1770s and the score caps his output with élan. Talpain’s convincing account of what is an esteemed score builds a case for hearing this opera more frequently. With attractive arias and colorful orchestration, Amadis merits attention for the ways in which it influenced other composers of the time, including Mozart whose relationship to the London Bach is well known.
Those familiar with the period should enjoy this captivating Amadis which boasts the fresh voices of a fine cast of principals led by Talpain. While the sound favours the voices over the orchestra the ear soon becomes acclimatised to the ambience because of this quality of the music-making.
James L. Zychowicz