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Mondonville Titon NBD0131V
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Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de MONDONVILLE (1711-1772)
Titon et L’Aurore, Pastorale héroïque in a prologue and three acts
Titon, Reinoud van Mechelen (tenor); L’Aurore, Gwendoline Blondeel (soprano); Palès, Emmanuelle de Negri (soprano); Éole, Marc Mauillon (bass-baritone); Amour, Julie Roset (soprano); Prométhéé, Renato Dolcini (bass-baritone)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
Stage director, puppet, set and costume designer, Basil Twist
rec. 18–19 January 2021, Opéra Comique, Paris, France
Sung in French: Subtitles: French, English, German, Japanese, Korean
Picture: HD 16:9, Sound PCM Stereo / DTS 5.1. Region code: 0 (worldwide)
reviewed in surround
NAXOS NBD0131V Blu-ray [127 mins]

This is a remarkably interesting production on several fronts. The music is a rarity, the composer almost unknown, the staging as close to the original as can be achieved, the period performance very fine and the history of the piece of unusual cultural significance.

Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville was the son of an organist and the brother of the even less-known composer Jean Cassanéa de Mondonville. A lot of Jean-Joseph’s music is lost, and he was, in any case, not very prolific. Apart from a few stage works, the Pieces de Clavecin and his Grands Motets, he is a forgotten figure, despite being one of a grand tradition of French court composers. The present work was, along with Rameau’s Castor et Pollux, a rallying point in the Querelle des bouffons, Quarrel of the Comic Actors. This was a strange controversy which blew up in 1752 and focussed the minds of theatre-goers on the differences between the rather strait-laced opera seria of Lully and Rameau and the opera buffa of Italian composers like Pergolesi, Alessandro Scarlatti and Galuppi. The sharp wit and musical skill of Jean-Jacques Rousseau joined the fray with pamphlets critical of the older styles and he wrote a very successful one-act opera Le Devin du Village to demonstrate his point. Mondonville was pulled into this by none other than Madame de Pompadour whose power at Louis XV’s court enabled her not only to promote what she wanted, but even to take singing and acting roles on the stage. Agnès Terrier’s fascinating essay in the booklet is well worth reading as background for this Pastorale héroïque: Titon et L’Aurore.

Taken at face value, it is a rather lightweight tale of gods, goddesses and shepherds. Seen as an ingredient in the Querelles des bouffons it takes on more than a little satirical edge.  Prometheus is busy using fire to bring clay statues to life. Love congratulates him for keeping busy rather than idling his time away like the other gods. Meanwhile, the shepherd Titon is in love with the goddess Aurore, who is also in love with him, and keeps him young because she as a goddess never ages. The god of wind Aeolus is also after the lovely goddess and seeks to remove Titon from the scene. This he does, with the assistance of the goddess of shepherds, Pales. Pales, of course, loves Titon and attempts to seduce him away from his thoughts of Aurore. Failing in this she takes revenge by making Titon age. Eventually the curse is lifted and Titon, newly immortalised by Love (remember her?) gets back together with Aurore on equal terms. This involves clay figures, flying sprites, dramatic weather, transformations and a bit of lamenting. Plenty of operatic fodder there. All this is dressed as if we are seeing a 1752 stage controlled by machinery of the day. The costumes reflect the opulence that might be expected in a Versailles theatre. The superb orchestra and chorus of Les Arts Florissants play and sing as if unaware of the lack of any audience and the presence of COVID masks in the pit – not the stage! This was all done in the middle of our pandemic. What a treat this would have been for an audience, and one hopes they will at least see this Blu-ray disc.

Musically, Titon et L’Aurore is attractive enough, but to be honest this composition also needs spectacular costumes, flamboyant staging and outstanding singing to hold one’s attention. Since it has both of these, this disc has to be given a strong recommendation. The picture is appropriately bright and sparkling, the sound is absolutely clear and clean with enough ambience to give it the feeling of being there.

Dave Billinge

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