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Antonio SALIERI (1750-1825)
Tarare: opera in a Prologue and five acts (libretto by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais)
Cyrille Dubois (Tarare)
Jean-Sebastian Bou (Altar)
Karine Deshayes (Astasie)
Judith van Wanroij (La Nature/Spinette)
Enguerrand de Hys (Calpigi)
Tassis Christoyannis (Arthenée/Genius of Fire)
Jérôme Boutillier (Urson/Slave/Priest)
Philippe-Nicolas Martin (Attamort/Peasant/Slave)
Marine Lafdal-Franc (Elamir)
Danaé Monnié (Shepherdess/Ghost of Spinette)
Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
rec. 2018, Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles
APARTÉ AP208 [3 CDs: 164:13]

On disc, I only own Antonio Salieri’s first French opera, Les Danaïdes, conducted by Christophe Rousset (Ediciones Singulares ES10198RSK). It was such a success that Salieri was commissioned to compose two further operas. I am glad to explore more of his work.

The much-maligned Antonio Salieri has long been in the shadow of the more illustrious Mozart, and has even been accused of hastening his death. Pushkin drew on an apocryphal legend that states that Salieri poisoned Mozart, a tale that Rimsky-Korsakov was to set for his one-act opera Mozart and Salieri. This continued into the twentieth century. The English playwright Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus had Salieri work the exhausted Mozart to death. Whilst both stories have been found to be false, the tales continue to circulate, damaging Salieri’s reputation. In fact, he was a well-respected colleague and competitor of Mozart, and the teacher of his son Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart.

Tarare, rather than being a friendly gesture of goodbye in Liverpool, is the story of two unborn children. One is high-born and destined to be the tyrannical king Atar. The other, of humbler birth, was to be a soldier and hero of this story, Tarare. They are chosen in the Prologue of the opera by Nature and the Genius of Fire, with the aim of monitoring their progression through life. The action of the opera takes place forty years later, when time Atar has become king and an increasingly autocratic and despotic ruler. Tarare by now has become a soldier in the king’s army, and a respected leader of his men. When he saves Atar from drowning, he becomes a general as a reward. Now, Atar sees Tarare’s wife Astasie. He is taken by her beauty and abducts her in order to make her his own wife, planning to have Tarare murdered in the process. As the story progresses, Tarare is aided by Calpigi and Spinette, two enslaved Italian singers, in his quest to rescue Astasie and flee Atar’s tyranny. Tarare is captured and tortured by Atar’s sinister high priest Arthenée, who relishes the prospect of burning Tarare at the stake along with Astasie: she has refused to go along with Atar’s plans. It is at this point, when Atar is in deep despair because Tarare and Astasie are happier to die together than he is at having them killed, that Calpigi appears with the troops loyal to Tarare. The troops and gathered people state that they want Tarare as their king. In his rage, Atar kills himself and reluctant Tarare is crowned king. Scene 10 of the final act becomes an epilogue in which Nature and the Genius of Fire return. They conclude that it is not how you are born that determines your fate, but it is the persons character that influences the outcome of their life. If anything, Beaumarchais, who courted controversy with his Figaro plays, is perhaps at his most radical and political in Tarare. He says that all hereditary monarchs are despots and that the land should be ruled by the people’s representatives. He goes as far as to suggest that kingdoms should be overthrown, and the rulers killed; provocative stuff, especially when you consider that this opera was premiered only two years before the French Revolution, in which Beaumarchais would go on to claim a hand.

The performance is fabulous. All the principal singers are in fine voice. The tenor Cyrille Dubois is as compelling in his more dramatic and heroic arias, as he is tender and loving in the scenes he shares with Astasie. Karine Deshayes, who sings Astasie, shows a good amount of distain in her voice as she rejects the king’s advances. Jean-Sebastian Bou shines as he is called on to vent his spleen for the majority of his part, filling it full of bile and villainous intent. As the high priest Arthenée, the excellent Tassis Christoyannis sneers his way through with obsequiousness. In the two semi-comical roles of Calpigi and Spinette, both Enguerrand de Hys and Judith van Wanroij are first-class; de Hys portrays Calpigi’s fear of Atar and admiration for Tarare with wonderful dexterity. Even the minor roles are sung with brilliance, making this a wonderfully starry opera cast.

The chorus of Les Talens Lyriques are at their wonderful best, whilst the orchestra shine, especially in the numerous orchestral excerpts in the opera. Christophe Rousset marshalls his forces expertly. As he does in Les Danaïdes, he makes some small cuts, but these are not missed as the dramatic flow of the opera runs well here. If anything, I prefer this work to Les Danaïdes. This only leaves me with Rousset’s recording of second of Salieri’s French operas to hear. On the evidence of the other two, I look forward to Les Horaces.

The presentation is splendid: a CD-sized 275-page hardback book, with notes, synopsis and full texts in French, English and German, and the discs tucked in the front and back covers. It is certainly the way ahead for opera recordings. The excellent recorded sound gives the production an atmospheric feel. Highly recommended.

Stuart Sillitoe



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