This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
It was said of Mondonville’s operas that “though nothing may astound, everything pleases”. Certainly, with his seemingly inexhaustible graceful melodic gift (even the recitatives, metrically more regular than in the usual flexible tradition, approximate more to ariosos) and his combination of coloratura ariettes, simple Lully-style arias, Italian influences and brilliant orchestral colouring, Mondonville aimed at, and succeeded in, pleasing the diverse tastes of his time; and to us today the results, as exemplified in this 1758 work, are altogether delightful. Les fetes de Paphos, it is true, has little of the depth of his older contemporary Rameau (whom he rivalled, if not surpassed, in popularity); but then, this is not a tragedie en
musique but an opera-ballet in three dramatically independent acts. The first two – “Venus et Adonis” and “Bacchus et Erigone” – had begun life in the previous decade as entertainments for Madame de Pompadour, who herself took the leading role in each: their success led Mondonville to add a third action, “Amour et Psyche”, and to make some modifications to the existing entrees. In accordance with French tastes, the work is liberally interspersed, and concluded, with dance movements, many of which possess great inventiveness and charm; and prominent features of the score are the colourful instrumentation and the independence of the orchestra from the vocal line.
Yet, if nothing ‘astounds’, there is no lack of telling harmonies, striking virtuosity, or, especially in Act 3, of descriptive dramatic writing. Even from the outset the high-spirited overture – in a single movement, departing from the Lullian pattern – holds out a promise of vitality, which is amply fulfilled in later vigorous Tambourins and in the agitated introductory ritournelle to Act 3; and Amour et Psyche is notable for a tempest sequence (already a century-old tradition in French opera) and a remarkable scene in Hades, where the implacable cries of demons seem to foreshadow Gluck’s Orfeo (written only four years later in Vienna, where French plays and light operas were much in vogue). But there are also three very touching slow arias, one in each act: “Qu’en ce bois s’eleve une fleur”, Venus’s lament for Adonis, killed by a monster summoned up by jealous Mars (though he is later restored to life); Erigone’s “Dieu des amans”, a plea for divine aid in her love for Bacchus; and Psyche’s “J’ai perdu mes attraits”, her grief when her beauty is brutally destroyed by one of the Furies (though Cupid’s continued devotion wins its restitution).
Christophe Rousset directs an extremely enjoyable performance, with well-judged pacing. He secures spirited, flawlessly neat playing from his orchestra and excellent singing from his chorus (whose Act 2 “La victoire vole a ta voix” is especially fine); and he has a team of stylistically experienced soloists. Chief honours among these go to Veronique Gens, radiant as Venus, whose florid Act 1 “Regne a jamais sur nos coeurs” is a high spot, and the outstanding Olivier Lallouette, a redoubtable Mars and, as Bacchus, given “Vous enchantez mon coeurs” with its seductive instrumental obbligatos. Sandrine Piau shines in the Act 3 coloratura ariette “Quand je vole” and in the work’s most famous number, the stunning Act 2 duet “Amour, lance tes traits” with Lallouette, but in her big “Cessez, guerriers” aria and elsewhere she becomes slightly shrill on higher notes. Agnes Mellon is an affecting Psyche, there is a vigorous “Cher Bacchus” from Peter Harvey as Comus (but he perhaps overdoes tonal harshness in portraying Tisiphone), and Jean-Paul Fouchecourt is stylish as Adonis and Mercury, though I find a somewhat disconcerting whining quality in his voice.
A welcome addition to the catalogue, and a decided success as a recording. The discs come with four distinct commentaries, of which that in German is the most comprehensive.
-- Lionel Salter, Gramophone [7/1997]
Works on This Recording
Les fêtes de Paphos by Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville
Sandrine Piau (Soprano),
Véronique Gens (Soprano),
Agnès Mellon (Soprano),
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Tenor),
Olivier Lallouette (Baritone),
Peter Harvey (Baritone),
James Oxley (Tenor)
Les Talens Lyriques
Written: 1758; France
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