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Royer: Pyrrhus / Thompson, Negri, Laurens, Goode-crawford, Les Enfants D'apollon

Release Date: 03/25/2014 
Label:  Alpha Productions   Catalog #: 953   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Joseph Nicolas P. Royer
Performer:  Guillemette LaurensEmmanuelle De NegriAlain BuetJeffrey Thompson
Conductor:  Lisa Goode Crawford
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Enfants D'apollon
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ROYER Pyrrhus Michael Greenberg, cond; Alain Buet ( Pyrrhus ); Emmanuelle de Negri ( Poyxène ); Nicole Dubrovitch ( Ismène, Thétis ); Guillemette Laurens ( Eriphile ); Sophie Decaudaveine ( Nymph ); Edwige Parat ( Minerve ); Jeffrey Read more Thompson ( Acamas ); Laurent Collobert ( Ghost of Achilles ); Virgile Ancely ( Mars ); Christophe Gautier ( Jupiter ); Les enfants d’Apollon ALPHA 953 (2 CDs: 142:06 Text and Translation)

After Lully’s death, Louis XIV didn’t see fit to provide his successor as director at the Paris Opera with a monopoly over compositional rights. In fact, he didn’t appoint a composer to the position, but a trained musician and manager, Jean-Nicolas de Francine. The institution was set on a new footing, as a money-making proposition rather than entertainment and propaganda tool for the Sun King. For the next 40 years it remained in the hands of managers; and even when composer André-Cardinal Destouches took over its sagging reins in 1728, the Opera continued to operate as a vehicle both for revivals, and new works by a wide variety of musicians.

Perhaps it was two currently lost opéra comiques of the mid-1720s to which he contributed selections that brought Pancrace Royer (1705–1755) to the attention of Destouches. Or it may have been the support and power of Royer’s patron, Prince Victor Amadeus I of Carignano, who was a great opera enthusiast. So was Prince Antoine I of Monaco, with whom Destouches maintained a correspondence, and to whom Destouches expressed initial moderate satisfaction with a few selections he heard in 1730 while Royer’s Pyrrhus was in rehearsal.

His enthusiasm did not last. The libretto, whose author has never satisfactorily been established, was attacked repeatedly as too much of a play: too long in its monologues, its verses inappropriate for musical setting. Destouches called it “cold,” as did journalist Pierre Desfontaines, who also found its power of invention trivial and its language barbarous. And as for the music, Antoine I wrote to a friend upon receiving a copy of Pyrrhus —presumably a reduced score, with inner parts omitted—that “there has never been anything so weak and insipid produced up to the present time, excepting a few pieces that Destouches praised to me, but not all that much, though it might please him to say so.”

Destouches liked Royer personally. Most people that knew him did. He was courteous, pleasant, well regarded as a performer on the organ and harpsichord, and would soon find his métier as maître de musique des enfants de France to Louis XV, turning seven of the King’s children into reasonably advanced, knowledgeable musicians. But Royer’s opera failed. And despite the high praise of the liner notes—which mention “harmonic modulations of greater complexity, grandiose choruses including passages for the soloists, and more elaborate orchestral accompaniments inspired by the Italian instrumental music then in vogue,” there’s very little that’s fresh in Pyrrhus . Antoine, who was no doubt aware of Campra’s works, would have found most of these positive qualities already present in his popular tragédies in musique and especially his opéras-ballets.

This isn’t to suggest that Pyrrhus is without its attractions. If it retains little of contrapuntal interest from Lully’s day, the chorus “Chantons ses exploits” is a fine exception to the rule. Similarly, though there’s none of the flowing, intricate recitative from previous generations, including Destouches (which probably made Royer’s monologues seem even longer than they were), there is a fine Chaconne that distantly evokes the Olde Guarde. The dances also recall some of Campra’s skill. Ériphile’s air “Daigne un moment” is a good example of the new style, with a simplified accompaniment that promotes rather than impedes the piece’s pathos. Rameau would make still more of this mix of old and new—and in just three years, too, at the debut of his first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie . But in such numbers as that air, Royer demonstrated both his skill, and his ability to turn to advantage les goûts-réunis , the amalgam of French and Italian musical traits that ruled the day.

The recording, made over two days, is decidedly middling in its accomplishments. The best thing on it is Emmanuelle de Negri, a fine lyric soprano with excellent agility. She displays no fear before the expressive and musical extremes of her role. However, her exchange with Alian Buet, “Eh quoi, vous me fuyez,” only shows the latter to grim disadvantage. A fine artist who enunciates well, who knows how to expressively manipulate the singing line, Buet’s tight production and wobble at moderate volume make listening to him a chore. The opposite is the case for Nicole Dubrovitch. Her creamy-toned Ismème is sung beautifully, if with a sense of holding back, while her phrasing and expression remain tentative.

For the rest, Guillemette Laurens is at her best when singing softly, but her voice loses focus and quality as she applies pressure to it. Sophie Decaudaveine makes an elegant nymph; Virgile Ancely, a Mars lacking in resonance and bottom notes, but agile and accurate. Edwige Parat is a bright-toned, stylish Minerva, Christophe Gautier, a wooly-mouthed Jupiter with a widening vibrato. Jeffrey Thompson’s performance is much of a kind with his Ninus in the Pirame et Thisbè of Rebel and Francoœr (Mirare 058). I wrote back in 2008 of his bright, gleaming tenor, his good emission, but also his problems with simple coloratura, his over-emoting, and his willingness to tighten his voice into a quiver that resides within and around the pitch. His agility is better here, but many of his vowels are now very exaggerated—whether as part of characterization or because of vocal issues, I can’t say.

But one thing can be said: Someone should have sat down several members of this cast, and forced them to listen to dozens of French singers from the first third of the 20th century, when their nationality above all others was notable for its ease of vocal production upon the breath.

Some of Michael Greenberg’s tempos are surprisingly relaxed, especially in the more vigorous and enthusiastic choruses that as a result tend to lumber. Even so, the chorus falls behind his beat several times; so I suspect both lack of rehearsal and studio time are the culprits. Greenberg certainly exhibits a convincing awareness of style elsewhere, and draws forth fine performances from his orchestra and better soloists. The sound is well-balanced.

I could have wished a better cast on Greenberg, since the low points of this performance don’t let Pyrrhus shine to the extent it should. Nonetheless, it is an attractive work, better in many of its dances and more bucolic airs than in its desire to portray tragedy or its dreary recitative. Recommended, with reservations as noted.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Pyrrhus by Joseph Nicolas P. Royer
Performer:  Guillemette Laurens (Soprano), Emmanuelle De Negri (Soprano), Alain Buet (Bass),
Jeffrey Thompson (Tenor)
Conductor:  Lisa Goode Crawford
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Enfants D'apollon

Sound Samples

Pyrrhus: Overture
Pyrrhus: Prologue Scene 1: Vous qui suivez (Mars, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Prologue Scene 1: Mais, minerve parait (Mars)
Pyrrhus: Prologue Scene 2: Redoutable dieu des combats (Minerve, Mars)
Pyrrhus: Prologue Scene 3: Cessez de disputer (Jupiter, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Prologue Scene 3: Rondeau pour les jeux et les plaisirs
Pyrrhus: Prologue Scene 3: Doux plaisirs (Minerve)
Pyrrhus: Prologue Scene 3: Gavotte
Pyrrhus: Prologue Scene 3: Premier et deuxieme menuets
Pyrrhus: Prologue Scene 3: France, quel est pour toi (Jupiter, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act I Scene 1: Jouissez de votre victoire (Ismene, Polyxene, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act I Scene 2: Triomphez liberte charmante (Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act I Scene 2: Premier air pour les troyens et les troyennes
Pyrrhus: Act I Scene 2: Suivez l'amour (Ismene, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act I Scene 2: Rondeau
Pyrrhus: Act I Scene 2: Premier et deuxieme passepieds
Pyrrhus: Act I Scene 3: Et quoi, vous me fuyez (, Polyxene)
Pyrrhus: Act I Scene 4: Quel prix d'une si tendre ardeur! (, Acamas)
Pyrrhus: Act II Scene 1: Je ne sais ou je vais (Acamas)
Pyrrhus: Act II Scene 2: Prince, reprenez l'esperance (Eriphile, Acamas)
Pyrrhus: Act II Scene 3: Faut-il encor que je balance! (Acamas)
Pyrrhus: Act II Scene 4: Celebrez un heros (, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act II Scene 4: Chaconne
Pyrrhus: Act II Scenes 4: Quels mouvements soudains! (The Shade, , Acamas, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 1: Ritournelle
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 1: Que vois-je! (Polyxene, Acamas)
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 3: Pret a souffrir la violence ()
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 4: Apres ce que j'ai fait (, Polyxene)
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 5: Courons a ses genoux ()
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 6: Enfin voici ce jour (Eriphile, )
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 6: Daigne un moment (Eriphile, )
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 6: Depit jaloux (Eriphile, )
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 7: Cours redoubler (Eriphile)
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 8: Premier air de demons: Jouissons des plaisirs (Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 8: Deuxieme air
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 8: Evoquons (Eriphile, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act III Scenes 9: Pour toi, que faut-il entreprendre? (The Eumenides, Eriphile)
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scenes 1: Portons partout l'horreur (Polyxene, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scenes 2: Je vous trouve enfin (Acamas, Polyxene)
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scenes 3: Ne tentez plus (Eriphile)
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scene 4: Qu'il se flatte (Eriphile)
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scene 5: Barbare (, Eriphile)
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scene 6: Polyxene a l'amour ()
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scene 7: Ta voix s'est fait entendre (Thetis, The Nymph, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scene 7: Premier air pour les nymphes: Charmante liberte! (The Nymph)
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scene 7: Deuxieme air
Pyrrhus: Act IV Scene 7: Suspendez (The Nymph, Thetis)
Pyrrhus: Act V Scene 1: Transports d'amour ()
Pyrrhus: Act V Scene 1: Mais quel spectacle a mes yeux se presente? (, Acamas)
Pyrrhus: Act V Scene 3: Chantons (, Chorus)
Pyrrhus: Act V Scene 4: Ne craignez rien (, Polyxene)

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