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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Les Indes Gallantes, Opéra-ballet in one prologue and Four Entrées
Claron McFadden, Hébé; Zima (soprano)
Sandrine Piau, Zaïre (soprano)
Isabelle Poulenard, L’Amour; Phani (soprano)
Noémi Rime, Fatime (soprano)
Miriam Ruggeri, Émilie (soprano)
Howard Crook, Valère; Damon (tenor)
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Don Carlos; Tacmas (tenor)
Jérôme Correas, Bellone; Ali (baritone)
Bernard Deletré, Huascar; Don Alvar (bass)
Nicolas Rivenq, Osman; Adario (bass)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. live, 1990, Festival D’Aix-en-Provence
HARMONIA MUNDI HAX8901367.69 [3 CDs: 193:07]

Les Indes Gallantes, only the second stage work by Rameau, was first performed at the Académie Royale de Musique on 23rd August 1735. Instead of the glorification of French imperialism one would usually have expected at that time, Louis Fuzelier wrote the libretto concentrating on the downside of French colonialism. Despite its rather radical approach, or indeed because of it, it had seen 320 performances by 1773. Strangely enough, it fell into neglect during the uproar of the French Revolution and was unearthed only in the mid-20th century and ever since its revival nearly 70 years ago has been enthusiastically received by the audiences. The plot is divided into five completely autonomous scenes which could easily be described as classical ballet tableaux, save for their operatic character.

In the first scene or tableau is set in the palace of Hebe, the goddess of youth, who summons her followers to take part in a festival. Bellona, the goddess of war, interrupts the activities by calling on the youths to seek military glory instead. Hebe then prays to Cupid (L'Amour) to use his power to hold them back. Cupid descends on a cloud and decides to abandon Europe in favour of the Indies, where love is more welcome. In the next scene (Entrée I), we find ourselves in the gardens of Osman Pasha. He is in love with his slave, the young Émilie, who rejects him, telling him she is about to be married. A dramatic shipwreck occurs and Emilie recognises one of the sailors as her fiancé Valère. They prepare to return to France; Osman enters and is at first furious to see the couple united but unexpectedly shows mercy and frees them.

Entrée II is in the Incas of Peru, where we encounter the Inca priest Huascar, who is in love with Phani, but suspects a rival in Carlos, so creates an artificial earthquake to persuade her that she cannot refuse him. While Carlos and Phani sing of their love, Huascar is buried under burning rocks.

The next scene, Entrée III – Les fleurs, is set in the gardens of Ali’s Palace. Prince Tacmas is in love with Zaïre, a slave belonging to his favourite Ali, even though he has a slave girl of his own, Fatime. It turns out that Zaïre has been in love with Tacmas all along just as Fatime has been in love with Ali. The two couples rejoice in this happy resolution (Quartet: Tendre amour) and the act ends with the Persians celebrating the Festival of Flowers. For the last scene, Entrée IV, we find ourselves back on the American continent, this time with the savages. Here, on the borders of the French and Spanish colonies, the ceremony of the Peace Pipe is about to be celebrated. Adario, a native American, is in love with Zima, daughter of a native chief, but he fears the rivalry of the Spaniard Don Alvar and the Frenchman Damon. Zima prefers the natural love shown by Adario (Air: Sur nos bords l'amour vole) and the couple vow to marry (Duet: Hymen, viens nous unir d'une chaîne éternelle). The act ends with the Europeans joining the natives in the ceremony of peace (Chorus: Forêts paisibles). The Danse Sauvage with its striking repeating rhythm pattern and easy melody stands out and is most memorable.

Les Arts Florissants have a profound knowledge of performing baroque music and know how to make it come to life. Founded in 1979 by the harpsichordist and conductor William Christie, they are pioneers in the revival of Baroque music and celebrated their 40th anniversary last year. The choice of soloist is a happy one, the sopranos Sandrine Piau (Zaïre) and Isabelle Poulenard (L’Amour; Phani) having outstandingly clear voices. The tenor Howard Crook convinces with a strong, warm voice as Valère and Damon. Bernard Deletré (Huascar; Don Alvar) adds depth with his lovely bass timbre. The recording is thorough and honest, but from time to time lacking a certain magnificence. However, with its exotic charm which includes far more than just the gallant Indies, this work of Rameau’s is remarkable for its anti-imperialistic tendencies and belief in the powers of love. Although some will find the latter being manifested a bit too often for their personal taste, Les Indes Gallantes is a necessary addition to any collection of French baroque music.

Max Burgdörfer

Previous review: Simon Thompson

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