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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Le Temple de la Gloire (Versailles, November 1745, reprised April 1746)
Text by Voltaire
Judith Van Wanroij (soprano) – Lydie, Plautine
Katia Velletaz (soprano) – une Bergère, une Bacchante, Junie
Chantal Santon-Jeffery (soprano) – Arsine, Érigone, la Gloire
Mathias Vidal (tenor) – Apollon, Bacchus, Trajan
Alain Buet (bass) – l’Envie, Bélus, le Grand Prêtre de la Gloire
Les Agrémens
Chœur de Chambre de Namur/Guy Van Waas
rec. Opéra royal de Wallonie-Liège, Espace Rossius, 2014
Texts and translations included.
Reviewed from press preview.
RICERCAR RIC363 [57:09 + 67:28]

By coincidence, I was working on this recording when Stuart Sillitoe’s review appeared of Nicholas McGegan’s live performance on Philharmonia Baroque (PBP10). I’m not surprised that he seems to be unaware of this slightly earlier release in one of Ricercar’s hard-back luxury packages – very few UK dealers seem to stock it. The recording was made with the support of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles (CMBV), created in 1987 to bring together in one place ‘the rediscovery and promotion of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French musical heritage, all the necessary resources for research, publishing, training and concert production’. Other recordings made under their aegis that I have heard have been very good.

Stuart Sillitoe has written a detailed analysis of the provenance of this work, so I can cut some of the cackle and refer you to his review. The McGegan recording which he reviewed is the first to employ the original edition, as performed at Versailles in the December of 1745, whereas Guy van Waas uses the recast (and unsuccessful) April 1746 version performed at the Académie royale de musique. The music was abridged: the notes in the booklet give the details of the changes made for that occasion. The edition specified is Jean-Philippe Rameau, Le Temple de la Gloire, edited by Julien Dubruque (Tauxigny: Société Jean Philippe Rameau, 2016; distr. Baerenreiter). Opera Omnia Rameau, IV.12.

The libretto was written by Voltaire, with whom Rameau had some rather sticky relations; it was their only joint enterprise to be performed and it contains some surprises coming from the pen of the philosopher of the Enlightenment who was also a reluctant courtier. Classical (Bacchus) and biblical (Bélus, i.e. Baal) gods were not exactly Voltaire’s forte. Some of these surprises were toned down in the revision, such as the replacement of Trajan’s closing prayer to the gods with birdsong. What could not be covered, however, was the thin disguise of Trajan’s victory over the rebellious kings in that final act as a metaphor for the recent victory of Louis XV.

Le Temple de la Gloire is rarely performed in its entirety, though the dramatic prologue sometimes receives an outing, and the orchestral suite has several recordings to its credit, including one directed by Nichola McGegan (Harmonia Mundi HMU907121, with Naïs orchestral suite, download only). Those who know the suite will find their ears perking up at several intervals during the two hours of the opera.

The $64,000 question, however, is whether there are enough of these perking-up spots to make the experience of the whole opera enjoyable. Stuart Sillitoe’s answer is negative – Rameau on an off day – and though I enjoyed hearing this performance, it’s not a work that I shall return to frequently.

However good an audio recording may be, and this is good in every respect, there’s one element lacking. All concerned give convincing performances: Judith van Wanroij, whose part even in a minor role in Castor et Pollux on DVD caught my attention – review – is particularly effective. I was also impressed by her singing on a DVD of Les Indes Galantes (Alpha 710).  Mathias Vidal also does well in a more substantial role than as second string to Stéphane Degout on a recital of music by Rameau and Gluck which I made Recording of the Month (Enfers, Harmonia Mundi HMM902288 – review).

Guy van Waas directs with the sure hand that I’ve found on his other recordings, and the recording does all concerned justice, as far as I am able to judge from my mp3 press download – at least it comes at a reasonable 248k VBR instead of the inadequate 192k versions that are outhere’s usual offerings to reviewers.

The lacking element is spectacle; it’s a great shame that Philharmonia Baroque didn’t offer a DVD/blu-ray version of their McGegan recording, recorded from live performnces. I’ve sometimes complained about videos of Rameau operas going over the top, but I’d rather have the spectacle. The prologue, in particular, would benefit from visuals, ending with l’Envie (envy), who has tried to destroy the Temple of Glory, being eternally chained to it.

For Rameau’s music plus spectacle, try the DVD of Castor et Pollux (above) or, better still, a DVD of Les Indes Galantes, either the Alpha (also above) or that directed by William Christie (Opus Arte OA0923D: Recording of the Month - review).

The 96-page booklet comes as one of Ricercar’s lavishly illustrated hard-back presentations, reflected in the price of £33.05 from Amazon, the one UK supplier that I can find, where the McGegan sells for £26.73. If you are happy to have the book in digital form as a pdf, Qobuz offer a 16-bit lossless download for £15.99 and high-definition 24-bit for £23.99. Subscribers to Naxos Music Library will find it there, also with pdf documentation.

Not the most urgent Rameau recommendation, then, but well worth at least streaming. If you want a good place to get to know Rameau’s more dramatic operatic music, I recommend the Harmonia Mundi recording Enfers, a Recording of the Month (link above).

Brian Wilson

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