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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Le Temple de la Gloire (original 1745 version)
Marc Labonnette (baritone)
Philippe-Nicolas Martin (baritone)
Camille Ortiz (soprano)
Gabrielle Philiponet (soprano)
Chantal Santon-Jeffery (soprano)
Artavazd Sargsyan (tenor)
Aaron Sheehan (tenor)
Tonia D'Amelio (soprano)
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale/Nicholas McGegan
rec. live, Cal Performances, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, USA, 28-30 April 2017

I have a revised version of this opera on LP, and I enjoy the CD of the ballet suite. Surprisingly, I was somewhat disappointed in this recording. I have a lot of Rameau’s operas on CD and DVD. Le Temple de la Gloire, however, is an opéra-ballet. The work itself lacks some of the dramatic intensity that the composer is famous for, something I think made him the greatest composer of French baroque opera. Take the role of Envy: it lacks the dramatic power you would expect from the drama of the action.

The work was composed in 1745 to celebrate the victory of the French at the battle of Fontenoy during the War of the Austrian Succession. Saxe was in charge of the French forces, but both Louis XV and his son Dauphin Louis were also present. The libretto by Voltaire equates Louis XV with the Roman Emperor Trajan whose many victories allow him to enter The Temple of Glory. Voltaire suggests in his libretto that on entering the Temple Trajan and therefore Louis XV should change it into le temple du bonheur public (the temple of public happiness). That idea was met with the kings’s distain towards Voltaire. This partly led to the work’s revision the following year. While the revised edition has been recorded a few times, this is the premiere recording of the original version. Its manuscript is owned by the University of California at Berkeley, where this recording was made.

There is some fine singing here. Marc Labonnette and Philippe-Nicolas Martin have been well schooled in the art of the French baritone, whilst Artavazd Sargsyan has that nasal tenor sound typical of French singers in his portrayal of Bacchus in Act II. He is especially good in his aria Érigone, objet plein de charmes, where his vocal range gets quite high. However, it is the four female singers who shine in this production. Chantal Santon-Jeffery’s portrayal of Lydie in Act I and La Gloire in Act III is particularly fine. I also like Camille Ortiz, who like most of the singers appears in more than one guise. She is particularly good when she sings the role of Érigone opposite Artavazd Sargsyan’s Baccus. Their shared recitative is a highlight of Act II. The Philharmonia Baroque Chorale are in fine voice. The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra are sparkling and add a lot to the production, especially in the dance numbers, all under Nicholas McGegan’s excellent direction.

This was a fully staged production with full cast, including dancers. The lavishly illustrated booklet shows many photographs of the performance. I imagine that I would have been more impressed if I were to review a DVD or Blu-ray. As it is, for me this is Rameau on an off day. This work lacks the grandeur and brilliance of Hippolyte et Aricie, Les Boréades or even Les Indes galantes, probably his best known opéra-ballet. It just makes me want to hear the revised edition again. I have not listened to it since I was able to play LPs.

If you are new to Rameau’s music, this is certainly not the best work to choose as an introduction. It is probably of interest to collectors. A word of warning: this is a very live recording. There are very few unwarranted stage noises, even from the dancers, but the audience are exuberant in their appreciation and applause.

Stuart Sillitoe


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