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Campra: Carnaval De Venise / Niquet, Buet, Vidal, Tynan, Haller, De Liso

Campra / Haller / Concert Spirtuel / Niquet
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Glossa   Catalog #: 921622  
Composer:  André Campra
Performer:  Luigi de DonatoSarah TynanSalome HallerAlain Buet,   ... 
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CAMPRA Le Carnaval de Venise Hervé Niquet, cond; Salomé Haller (Isabelle); Marina de Liso (Léonore); Andrew Foster-Williams (Rodolphe); Alain Buet (Léandre); Mathias Vidal (One of the Arts/Musician/Slavonian/Mask/Head of the Castellans/Gondolier/Orfeo); Sarah Tynan Read more class="ARIAL12i">(Euridice); Blandine Staskiewicz (Minerve/Fortune/Happy Shade); Luigi de Donato (Director/Carnival/Plutone); Le Concert Spirituel; Singers of the Center of Versailles Bar Music Center Singers GLOSSA 921622 (2 CDs: 129:01 Text and Translation)

As the Sun King’s power and flow of wealth declined toward the end of the 17th century, centrifugal force set in. Several of those nobles who formerly spent most of their time at Versailles created their own Parisian mini-courts, and many who were formerly employed by Louis XIV to create the propaganda art he delighted in sought their fortunes in that aristocratic patronage. So it proved with opera. Without the King’s control over subject and treatment—without Lully, to whom he’d given a musical monopoly and an ideological leash—composers and librettists chose their own operatic themes and treatments to please a broader audience. Somber tragedies gave way to gleefully ironic humor, mythological heroes and heroines to realistic figures, with a greater emphasis on dance than Quinault and Lully were ever willing to tolerate.

Thus the opéra-ballet was born. It first existed as a mix of the old and the new, as in Campra’s 1699 production of Le Carnaval de Venise . Léonore vows vengeance on Isabelle for having claimed the love of a man who formerly cared for her, Léandre. She enlists the aid of Rodolphe, who desires her, in a murder plot. This much is serious, with situations and treatment that basically mirrors Lully, though using more complex harmonies and thematic interrelationships. But this sequence of events occurs against the unchanging, out-of-time framework of Venice’s carnival season, both in a series of individual dances and a pair of lengthy divertissements. The work’s librettist, Jean-François Regnard, strove to blur the boundaries of the two elements as well as he could—for example, Léandre and Isabelle flee their attackers by entering a theater preparing a performance of a new Italian opera, Orfeo.

(It’s also one of two sly nods in the work to Luigi Rossi’s opera Orfeo , performed at Cardinal Mazarin’s request in Paris in 1647, and still circulating among French cultural mavens in manuscript excerpts half a century later. This kind of reflection between staged reality and a stage-within-that-stage became a cherished French theatrical trope. Perhaps the most famous instance features the hero and heroine in René Clair’s 1931 film Le Million , fleeing from the law and reconciling behind a stage as flower petals fall down on the pair and on a couple of particularly unbelievable operetta singers performing in front of them.)

Genuine integration between plot and dances still lay ahead a few years. It was the distinction of Regnard to supply the first continuously plotted opéra-ballet , along the way fostering a subtle anti-Sun King subtext by setting his work in Venice, which the times idealized as a perfect republic run by minimum centralized power. Campra’s contribution was in its own way equally subversive. He simply supplied the music—endlessly inventive, varied, and attractive music—but it is music that provides Italian cantilena as well as short-breathed French melodies, marking a new phase in the argument over French and Italian musical character. Dissonances and irregular phrase lengths abound in Le Carnaval de Venise , as in the act II serenade-trio sung in Italian, “Luci belle, dormite.” Interruptive orchestral ritournelles sometimes take over the part of a chorus, guiding the expressive territory of a serious character in song; and airs are expanded into larger forms—witness the scope of Léonore’s moving “J’ay fait l’aveu,” and Isabelle’s tragic “Mes yeux, fermez-vous à jamais.” Far-flung harmonic progressions add piquancy to many of the dances, and typically French two- and three-voiced contrapuntal accompaniments solidify at times into fugal counterpoint, as in the “Air for the Arts.” Finally, let’s not forget humor: Choleric Rodolphe appears in act II, scene 7 to a wild, breathlessly scurrying tune in 16th notes that reminds me at least of nothing so much as satirical essayist Stephen Leacock’s frenzied Lord Ronald who “flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”

Make no mistake, the very ambitious and talented Campra was staking out a claim to something new here, to becoming the most popular opera composer of the French Regency. So he remained through Les Ages in 1718, when the political climate changed—the first of several wars and multiple conspiracies aimed at toppling the Regency—and the opéra-ballet was temporarily de trop . Campra returned to sacred music, which he also did very well; when the opéra-ballet became popular once more in the 1730s, its reigning genius was the still greater Jean-Philippe Rameau. That doesn’t lessen Campra’s achievement in the genre, however. As the Rameau revival moves ahead, it’s heartening to find at least one conductor and company willing to provide us with more than a suite of dances by his brilliant predecessor.

The performances are all good, with reservations. Among the four serious leads, bass Alain Buet impresses me more than he did as Dryas in Boismortier’s Daphnis et Chloé , but his voice sounds completely free only in its upper, baritonal reaches, and a wide vibrato is noticeable whenever he lands on a longer note. Marina de Liso’s bright mezzo seems a bit worn when compared to her Rosimonda in Handel’s Faramondo , though her enunciation and expressive declamation remain as strong as ever. Her entrance after Salomé Haller’s in “Dans ce beau jour” is typical. Haller is less sketchy in her florid work than in Lully’s Proserpine , though her agile voice and focused tone still suffer occasionally from being short-breathed (“Mi dice la speranza”). Bass Andrew Foster-Williams has trouble with the lowest notes of “Vous qui me souffrez point,” and tends to bluster, but certainly has the style and the voice for Rodolphe.

Many of the singers in smaller roles really shine. Blandine Staskiewicz is first-rate, especially as Minerve; and if Mathias Vidal doesn’t have quite the free-throated high tenor sound of Aaron Sheehan, his facility is excellent (“Vittoria, mio cuore”). Luigi de Donato is as intelligent as ever, always making good dramatic sense, with the notes of a bass but little of the resonance. Sarah Tynan, whom I really enjoyed in the English-language recording of Poulenc’s The Carmelites , makes a vocally very fetching Euridice, offering a great range of shading in her small part (“Lungi da me”). All of the cast deliver an intensely theatrical experience, with none of the “it’s a drama until the recitative stops” feel that one finds too often elsewhere.

Without question, Hervé Niquet is the hero of this release. He marshals his forces with a combination of spirit and sensitivity, and brings out the many emotional facets of Le Carnaval with an ease clearly borne of hard work. It helps that in Le Concert Spirituel he’s blessed with a first-rate Baroque orchestra, one he founded in 1987, and with which he enjoys that particularly close relationship only possible between conductors and ensembles who have labored under the same harness for many years. This music showcases their precision, as well as their orchestral sound that emphasizes individual timbres as much as an overall blend.

With excellent sound, full texts and translations, this is one of the best releases in Glossa’s series of French Baroque opera. Hopefully more Campra will be possible in the near future, notably Les Fêtes vénitiennes , his 1710 opéra-ballet that was also set in Venice.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Le carnaval de Venise by André Campra
Performer:  Luigi de Donato (Bass), Sarah Tynan (Soprano), Salome Haller (Soprano),
Alain Buet (Bass), Marina De Liso (Mezzo Soprano), Andrew Foster-Williams (Bass Baritone),
Mathias Vidal (Tenor), Blandine Staskiewicz (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Hervé Niquet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Le Concert Spirituel

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