Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cadmus et Hermione
Vincent Dumestre, cond; André Morsch (
); Claire Lefilliâtre (
); Arnaud Marzorati (
); Isballe Druet (
); Arnaud Richard (
); Camille Poul (
Le Soliel/First Prince Tirien
); Geoffroy Buffìere (
); Romain Champion (
); Vincent Vantyghem (
Second Prince Tirien
); Luanda Siquiera (
); Élodie formard (
); Hélène Richer (
); Eugénie Warnier (
); Jeroen Bredelwold (
); Jean-François Lombard (
The Nurse/Pastoral God
); Le Poème Harmonique (period instruments)
ALPHA 701 (DVD: 123:00) Live: Paris 2008
The choice of an opera subject in the reign of Louis XIV was often a coded reference to the King, his nation, and his court.
Cadmus et Hermione,
tragédie en musique
, was no exception. The Franco-Dutch War had started well in 1672 for the French, who assumed they could dictate peace terms to William III. In response, Lully and his librettist Quinault set the Greek legend of Cadmus, the tale of a Phoenician prince who slays a dragon and marries Hermione with the gods’ blessing. Cadmus was France, the dragon was the Netherlands, and Jupiter would be representative of Louis, who makes peace at the end of victory against evil. (As a side note, Hermione in some versions of the legend was called Harmonia, and thus could be seen as a self-reference by Lully to his musical achievement, with Cadmus as the composer. He was never noted for modesty.) Effusive flattery it might have been, but it was also a matter of using art as an international weapon of diplomatic one-upmanship, as rulers have done throughout recorded history. Louis was appreciative, even if the Dutch turned down his outrageous demands and the war dragged on. Lully and Quinault were well launched on their operatic careers.
From the moment the curtain rises on this production to show a stage, floor-lit with dozens of recessed candles, the woodland scenery represented by three floor-slotted, hand-painted flats and a detailed backdrop—a stylized sun proceeding across the stage—you know you’re dealing with Baroque zealots. So it proves: per the enclosed liner notes, the “Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles has been reviving Baroque music using a fourfold approach: research, gathering of sources, publication and performance.” These are scholars at work, but scholars bent on recreating a vital theatrical tradition. The results are ironically more alive than many other, less “re-creative” operatic productions I’ve seen, from standard fourth-wall-removed realism to
’s I’m-the-director-hear-me-whine. It’s great fun to watch on DVD, and must have been even better live.
Attire and scenery in the prologue are rich in greens, reds, and yellows, appropriate for the idealized woodland peasantry who sing the opening chorus—and for the pair of singers who follow, apparently playing musettes (French rural bagpipes, actually part of the orchestra) on stage, along with dancers dressed as satyrs and nymphs. The sylvan proceedings are interrupted by Envy, who understandably hates peace, calling forth monsters in the form of acrobatic dancers who “fly” in from above, spinning through the air on trapezes. Python, the sea serpent, is then summoned forth from a trapdoor in the stage. The soft tones of recorders herald the appearance and triumph over the evil lot by Apollo; and after the chorus returns, the god himself descends from the heavens to speak to the multitude in reassuring recitative. It’s an auspicious introduction to a work in which entertainment in several arts is the main thing, with plot taking a secondary part in the proceedings.
Acting throughout is stylized, with broadly curved gestures that sometimes resemble modern pantomime. Singers stand and turn out to the audience when communicating with one another, in an older, non-realistic tradition that was gradually phased out during the latter part of the 19th century. The effect is of an almost ritualized drama. Factor in bright, elaborately embroidered costumes, and you have a visual feast on the Opéra Comique stage.
The music is also for the most part in excellent hands. André Morsch is an effective Cadmus, strong and clear in his declamation. Claire Lefilliâtre has a brilliant top and startlingly precise figurations delivered quickly, but with a sometimes bland and poorly supported lower range. Arnaud Richard is an excellently fierce and dark-voiced Mars; Arnaud Marzorati, an amusing Arbas. As Jupiter, Geoffroy Buffière possesses a suitably magisterial bass, though he barely attempts his figures. Romain Champion is an electrifying Envy, in a role that doesn’t lend itself to revealing beauty of tone. Dumestre leads a performance notable for its theatricality, as nuanced in slow recitative as it is galvanizing in dances and visitations of the miraculous. All the performers display a similar concern for proper Baroque style, including attempts at “authentic” pronunciation, which apparently meant during the 17th century that the French lived happily sounding all their final consonants.
Camerawork is unobtrusive. It focuses for the most part on preplanned long and medium shots that concentrate on the center of stage action, whether singing, dancing, or machinery. During instrumental prologues, we get several sequences of Dumestre and the orchestra from a good, raised side angle, as well as the occasional close-up. Pans and zooms are applied slowly, again with an eye to the momentary center of attention. Sound is available in stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 The video ratio is 16:9, and subtitle languages include English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Italian, and Chinese.
All in all, this is one of the most delightful operatic DVDs I’ve seen and heard in a long time. It combines a feast for the senses with a glance at vanished performance traditions that, in their proper application, remain valid today. Early-music fans won’t want to miss this. Nobody else should, either.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Cadmus et Hermione, LWV 49 by Jean-Baptiste Lully
Arnaud Richard (Voice),
Isabelle Druet (Voice),
Jean-François Lombard (Countertenor),
André Morsch (Baritone),
Claire Lefilliatre (Soprano),
Arnaud Marzoratti (Bass Baritone),
Camille Poul (Voice)
Le Poème Harmonique
Written: by 1673; France
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