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François-André Danican PHILIDOR (1726-1795)
Les Femmes Vengées (opéra-comique in one act, 1775)
Madame Riss - Claire Debono (soprano)
Madame la Présidente - Pascale Beaudin (soprano)
Madame Lek - Blandine Staskiewicz (mezzo-soprano)
Monsieur Riss - Jeffrey Thompson (tenor)
Monsieur le Président - Antonio Figueroa (tenor)
Monsieuer Lek - Alexander Dobson (baritone)
Opera Lafayette/Ryan Brown
rec. 2014, Dekelboum Hall, The Clarice, University of Maryland, USA. DDD
French text and English translation available online
NAXOS 8.660353 [67:20]

Naxos have been doing well by Philidor, having previously recorded the period-instrument Opera Lafayette and Ryan Brown, with different soloists, in Sancho Pança (8.660274) and a group led by Jean-Claude Malgoire in Carmen Sæculare (8.557594/94).

As with the earlier Naxos recording of Opera Lafayette in Lully’s Armide, Les Femmes Vengées (The Women Avenged) was made following live performances, photographs from which in black and white and colour are included in the booklet.  Robert Hugill enjoyed Armide (8.660209/10 – review), especially as it was the only recording available, but recommended waiting for a better one or trying to track down the Herreweghe recording (Harmonia Mundi). 

In fact that Harmonia Mundi set can be sampled, streamed or downloaded for £8.49 from Qobuz, albeit without booklet.  The download is more expensive and is also without booklet.  A new recording by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants has also appeared on FRA - FRA505 (blu-ray)/FRA005 (DVD).  I don’t think that we reviewed it, but it did receive a warm welcome elsewhere.

In the case of Les Femmes Vengées there would seem to be little likelihood of a rival version appearing.  It isn’t claimed as a first recording, but I can’t find any trace of any predecessor.  It’s an attractive if not particularly memorable one-act opéra-comique and its chief interest lies in the fact that the plot resembles that of Così fan tutte.  Indeed Opera Lafayette performed it in tandem with the Mozart and Ryan Brown’s notes in the booklet point to the similarities: ‘as if it might function as a humorous third act to Così … after the couples have been married for several years’.  If the Mozart performance was as good as that of the Philidor it’s a shame that it, too, was not recorded for posterity, in preference to Naxos’s rather unremarkable Wildner version of that work.

With Armide Robert Hugill had another recording for comparison.  In the case of Les Femmes Vengées there is no such benchmark.  In fact all concerned make a strong case for getting to know the work, though I’m not sure how often I shall be returning to hear it.  All the soloists have attractive voices and are well supported throughout.

Claire Debono featured as Iris and Venus in the William Christie recording of Cavalli’s La Didone which I reviewed some time ago.  I thought her a little too coquettish as Venus, though enjoying her singing.  Here, with no visual distraction, I was even more taken with her Madame Riss, as I was with her contribution to another Christie recording, of Monteverdi’s Ritorno d’Ulisse review.

I enjoyed hearing Blandine Staskiewicz as Galatea in Handel’s Aci, Galatea e PolifemoDownload News 2013/14.  She stars in a recent recital of Handel and Vivaldi arias in which she is often my first choice – review: I see that Jonathan Woolf was also impressed – review – and she is no less impressive as Madame Lek here.

I encountered Jeffrey Thompson in a recording of music by Lawes and his contemporaries and what I wrote then – ‘[he] sings the music with a pleasant and expressive, often dramatic, voice’ – applies equally to his Monsieur Riss.  (Download News 2014/8).  If I don’t recall hearing the other soloists before, it’s not for lack of merit on their part.

The recording was made over two days immediately after the production, thus retaining the frisson of live performance without the attendant noises off.  Indeed it does full justice to the performers.

The booklet contains a detailed synopsis, cued to the tracks of the CD, but the libretto and translation are available only online.

I enjoyed this much more than I had anticipated, so much so that I’m encouraged to try out Opera Lafayette’s Sancho Pança, too.

Brian Wilson

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