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L'Opéra du Roi Soleil
Katherine Watson (soprano)
Les Ambassadeurs/Alexis Kossenko (direction & flute/recorder)
rec. 2018, Arsenal, Metz, France
Sung French, Italian texts with English translations contained in booklet
APARTÉ AP209 [73.25]

On the Aparté label the new album ‘L'Opéra du Roi Soleil’ is designed around the voice of soprano Katherine Watson. Providing the orchestral accompaniment are Les Ambassadeurs a period instrument ensemble directed by Alexis Kossenko. This collection of French Baroque music contains fifteen airs together with nine instrumental pieces from seven composers Andre Campra, Henri Desmarest, Jean-Baptiste Stuck, Marin Marais, Michel Pignolet de Montéclair, Jean-Baptiste Lully and his son Louis Lully, whose music is rarely encountered.

The album title L'Opéra du Roi Soleil (The Opera of the Sun King) refers to Louis XIV (1638-1715) known as the Sun King (Le Roi Soleil). It was the Sun King who founded Académie d'Opéra in 1669, with Jean-Baptiste Lully soon to become its director, and renamed the Académie Royale de Musique. It wasn’t long before the company became widely known as simply L’Opéra. Lully who had Tuscan roots had an unparalleled rise to fame from kitchen servant to the Sun King’s favourite. Here the selection of works from the period of the reign of the Sun King is intended to recreate a sense of some of the splendour of the royal court at Versailles and the Académie Royale de Musique. A number of the works have been languishing forgotten and unpublished such as the air from Louis de Lully’s neglected opera Orphée.

In her programme Watson demonstrates rôles tendres et pathétiques which primarily portray heroines in love which could be female deities such as maidens, noblewomen, nymphs, fairy princesses, goddesses. Here we have what is described as the 'art d'attendrir' the art of displaying tender emotion of the Paris Opéra in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.’ This is music sung by heroines of tragédie lyrique and opéra-ballet designed to ‘charm’, to ‘touch’ and to ‘move’ the audience.

This is an enchanting performance from the French based soprano Katherine Watson. An early music specialist the soprano excels in this French Baroque repertoire specially chosen for her. In bright, strong voice Watson melds intense emotions with focused precision. There is a remarkably consistent quality to the performances, and I’ve found every single work enjoyable. Standing out are Sombres marais du Styx, Cocyte, Phlégéton and Calmez votre violence… both from act four of Desmarest’s opera Circé (1694). Here Watson excels magnificently as eponymous sorceress Circé, generating palpable passion as she begs the gods to cease their rage for her lover’s sake. Lully’s opera Psyché (1671) is based on the mythological love story of Cupid and Psyche and another highlight is an Italian text setting from act one Deh, piangete al pianto mio with the ornamented double written by Michel Lambert. In this affecting Italian lament of the grieving woman, Watson reveals remarkable control and communicates a great sense of sorrow over her cruel fate. Under the assured direction of Alexis Kossenko (a flute/recorder soloist) Les Ambassadeurs perform with crispness and considerable energy with the period instruments producing an attractive sound. Impressively played too and often beautiful are the contributions from the solo instruments.

Recorded by Little Tribeca at the Arsenal Concert Hall, Metz the satisfying sound quality feels realistic. Entitled ‘Operatic Tears’ the booklet essay, by musicologist Benoît Dratwicki, is detailed and interesting to read. Gratitude is due to the label for providing sung French/Italian texts with English translations which are contained in the booklet. A note in the booklet states that ‘several unpublished works are being recorded for the first time’ but doesn’t specify which.

A stunningly performed collection of French Baroque arias, L'Opéra du Roi Soleil is an album to treasure.

Michael Cookson

Louis de LULLY (1664-1734)
Orphée (1690)
1. Ah ! que j’éprouve bien que l’amoureuse flamme… (Eurydice) [4.16]
Marin MARAIS (1656-1728)
Alcyone (1706)
2. Ouverture [3.14]
Ariane et Bacchus (1696)
3. Croirai-je, juste ciel, ce que je viens d’entendre? (Ariane) [4.48]
4. Symphonie du sommeil [1.40]
5. Air pour les flutes [1.13]
(François Nicolet, Lorenzo Brondetta: German flutes; Alexis Kossenko: bass flute)
André CAMPRA (1660-1744)
Idoménée (1712, 1731 version)
6. Chaconne [2.43]
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687)
Acis et Galatée (1686)
7. Enfin, j’ai dissipé la crainte… (Galatée)
Henry DESMAREST (1661-1741)
Circé (1694)
8. Sombres marais du Styx, Cocyte, Phlégéton… (Circé) [3.28]
9. Calmez votre violence… (Circé) [2.10]
Jean-Baptiste LULLY (double de Michel Lambert)
Psyché (1671)
10. Deh, piangete al pianto mio… (Une femme affligée) [6.11]
(Stefano Rossi, Tami Troman: solo violins; Bruno Helstroffer: theorbo)
Jean-Baptiste STUCK (1680-1755)
Air ajouté à Thétis et Pélée (1708)
11. Non sempre guerriero… [3.52]
(Jean-François Madeuf: trumpet; Guillaume Cuiller: oboe)
L’Europe galante (1697)
12. Mes yeux, ne pourrez-vous jamais… (Zaïde) [4.04]
Télèphe (1713)
13. Sarabande [1.39]
14. Soleil, dans ta vaste carrière… (La Pythonisse) [1.48]
15. Charmant père de l’harmonie… (La Pythonisse) [1.24]
Ariane et Bacchus (1696)
16. Rondeau [1.06]
Télèphe (1713)
17. Quelle épaisse vapeur tout à coup m’environne? (La Pythonisse) [1.50]
Alcyone (1706)
18. Marche pour les Matelots [1.55]
Idoménée (1712)
19. Espoir des malheureux, plaisir de la vengeance… (Ilione) [4.09]
Alcyone (1706)
20. Deuxième air des Matelots [1.01]
Michel Pignolet de MONTÉCLAIR (1667-1737)
Les fêtes de l’été (1716)
21. Mais, tout parle d’amour dans ce riant bocage! (Sylvie) [3.13]
Idoménée (1712, 1731 version)
22. Coulez, ruisseaux; dans votre cours… (Vénus) [2.36]
Jean-Baptiste LULLY
Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670)
23. Marche pour la cérémonie des Turcs [2.27]
Jean-Baptiste STUCK
Polydore (1720)
24. C’en est donc fait: le roi n’a plus de fils… (Ilione) [5.04]

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