Notes and Editorial Reviews
Konrad Junghänel, cond; Anna Virovlansky (
); Iulia Elena Surdu (
); Laimonas Pautienius (
); Anders J. Dahlin (
); Adrian Sâmpetrean (
); Thomas Michael Allen (
class="ARIAL12">); Neue Düsseldorfer Hofmusik
COVIELLO 21013 (2 CDs: 121:06)
In 1760, within a few years of his 80th birthday, and nine years after his last stage work, Rameau unveiled a new
at the Paris Opera.
was a satirical parody of the style and content of heroic opera, and more subtly of contemporary society in general. It was an absolute failure, though in typical French fashion the libretto, rather than the music, was the cause of its dismissal. Audiences and critics deplored the fact that all the characters were at least in part comic, that the work easily juxtaposed tragic and comic elements, and that the plot was drawn-out and facetious. It wasn’t seen again for more than 200 years, but has found staunch defenders in recent times. Cuthbert Girdlestone, author of
Jean Philippe Rameau: His Life and Work
, refers to
as a “unique little masterpiece,” and notes that the composer “passes with astonishing ease from the tender to the burlesque,” even while criticizing its plot for being “impossibly intricate.” I find it a delightfully mercurial work, much in Rameau’s later manner, which, like Verdi’s
, is quick to shift not merely mood but genres, and to provide allusions, literary and musical, that vanish almost as soon as they are grasped.
The performances are good, in general. Anna Virovlansky as the heroine, Argie, has a bland tone, one that gains in quality as it descends into a darker, mezzo-like chest. As her confidante, Nérine, Iulia Elena Surdu possesses the kind of sparkling, tightly focused sound associated with soubrettes, but often heard in traditional French lyric leads as well. Her voice is agile and capable of good variation in dynamic levels (“Est-il beau comme le jour?”). Anders J. Dahlin has an excellent command of coloratura, and a slightly raw, dark lyric tone that brightens sharply as it rises up the scale (“Accourez, amants, venez tous”). Thomas Michael Allen’s more typically light, honeyed lyric is a standout in the small role of Manto. Laimonas Pautienius has the right manner for Orcan, the threatening buffoon of a jailer, but lacks the lower bass notes for the part, cannot manage the ornamentation, and has a slightly loosened vibrato. Adrian Sâmpetrean is better; his dark bass comes equipped with the bottom notes, and ornamentation is handled easily and delicately (“Mon Coeur, tu n’as que peu d’instants”). Very occasionally he pushes for volume, causing a slight wobble in tone. Konrad Junghänel provides reasonable tempos and solid if overly sober accompaniment. The Neue Düsseldorfer Hofmusik performs with spirit, though at times sloppily.
This recording was made live, as noted on the jewel box. That can’t be missed, not with people tromping around stage toward the end of the overture. As no audience was included, I’m not sure why the work was recorded this way instead of in a studio, at least not as matters stand with a microphone setup that makes for slightly yet consistently recessed and hollow vocals. The liner notes include a decent essay and 10 pages of cast photos and bios. As these are repeated in German, French, and English, that accounts for some 30 pages. The libretto, printed only in French, takes up 17. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Less attention paid to the cast and more to Rameau, with perhaps a slightly smaller typeface and less empty space, would have given us a trilingual libretto. That would have added strong value to the set, as this is the only version of
currently on CD.
The DVD competition from Christie/Les Arts Florissants is actually pretty stiff, with an excellent all-around cast, and plenty of energy. Unfortunately, the stage director/set designer is more interested in celebrating his personal genius with a multimedia circus of material having nothing remotely to do with the opera (think: images of tightrope walkers, pollution-infested cities, penguins). If you can turn off the video and just listen to the thing, it sounds great, but if you want a set of discs you can just throw in the car, this one will furnish a good solid experience until a great production comes along.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Les Paladins by Jean-Philippe Rameau
Thomas Michael Allen (Countertenor),
Anders J. Dahlin (Tenor),
Iulia Elana Surdu (Voice),
Anna Virovlansky (Voice),
Laimonas Pautienius (Voice),
Adrian Sâmpetrean (Tenor)
Neue Dusseldorfer Hofmusik
Written: 1760; France
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