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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Zoroastre (1756 version)
Zoroastre, founder of the Magi - Mark Padmore (haute-contre)
Abramane, high priest of Ariman - Nathan Berg (tenor)
Amélite, heiress to the throne of Bactria - Gaelle Mechaly (soprano)
Erinice, princess of the blood of the Kings of Bactria - Anna-Maria Panzarella (soprano)
Zopire, priest of Ariman; La Vengeance - Matthieu Lecroart (bass)
Narbanor, priest of Ariman - Francois Bazola (bass)
Oromasès, King of the Genies; Ariman - Eric Martin Bonnet (bass) Céphie, Bactrian girl - Stephanie Revidat (soprano)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. live, Théâtre de Poissy, France, 28 August - 10 September, 2001. DDD.
Booklet includes notes and synopsis but no texts.
Supplement on CD3 includes dances omitted from live performance plus 1749 ending of Act V.
ERATO 2564 658889 [3 CDs: 68:08 + 55:51 + 38:55]

I can be fairly brief in welcoming the return of this old friend, a well-established classic, now at mid-price (target price around £17.50 in the UK).
 
Be careful which version you buy: some dealers still have the 2003 release at a higher price. Robert Hugill welcomed that earlier release in terms which I can only endorse and urge you to read - review. Just about my only grumble concerns the lack of texts for an opera that is not exactly standard repertoire - there seems to be only one rival recording, on DVD and blu-ray, with Christophe Rousset directing Les Talens Lyriques (Opus Arte); the Kuijken recording on DHM which Robert Hugill mentions seems not to have returned to the catalogue. If you prefer the spectacle of video, I understand that the Rousset is in ‘traditional’ costume and recorded in the appropriate setting of the Drottningholm Court Theatre.
 
I haven’t seen the Opus Arte recording; it has received strong but not universal praise - reservations in some quarters about the stylised dancing which sometimes afflicts productions of baroque opera - but I hardly think that it could excel the Erato reissue in any respect except the visual. Don’t be put off by the presence of so many bass voices in the cast list - although the Zoroastre who gives his name to the opera is indeed Zoroaster, the founding Magi of the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, and figures as Zarathustra in Richard Strauss’s Nietzsche-inspired tone poem, there’s plenty of love rivalry and magic in the plot and plenty of singing from the dessus voices and Mark Padmore’s haute-contre (high tenor rather than counter-tenor) to balance against them. Even the basses can be mellifluous - Nathan Berg as the villain sounds suitably villainous, but Eric Martin Bonnet, equally villainous as the subterranean voice of the demon Ariman, sounds quite beautiful as Oromasès, King of the Genies. Listen to Bonnet and Padmore together on CD1, tracks 22-24.
 
Mark Padmore justly heads the cast-list but there are no vocal weaknesses in this production. As Robert Hugill rightly says, however, it’s the sure hand of William Christie - one of my musical heroes - and the thoughtful accompaniment of Les Arts Florissants that hold the whole together.
 
If you enjoy Rameau’s better-known instrumental music and Handel’s operas, you should readily warm to this performance of Zoroastre. Speaking of Handel, it’s William Christie’s recording of his Orlando that gets my vote, too: Erato 2564 677430, 3 CDs, if you can find it separately, or in 6-disc set, 2564696532, with Alcina for around £20.
 
Should you have any doubts and have access to the invaluable Naxos Music Library, you can try Zoroastre there, apart from the appendix to CD3 containing the dances omitted from the live performance and the original 1749 ending of Act V. Don’t, however, judge the recording quality from the streamed version; as heard on CD the sound is very good.
 
A strong contender at the new lower price, though I must repeat that grumble about the lack of texts - I understand they were included with the original release; surely it would have cost very little extra just to reprint that booklet.
 
Brian Wilson

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