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Lully: Bellerophon / Rousset, Auvity, Scheen, Teitgen, Perruche

Lully / Auvity / Scheen / Perruche / Rousset
Release Date: 05/10/2011 
Label:  Aparte   Catalog #: 15  
Composer:  Jean-Baptiste Lully
Performer:  Jennifer BorghiEvgueniy AlexievCyril AuvityIngrid Perruche,   ... 
Conductor:  Christophe Rousset
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Talens Lyriques
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LULLY Bellérophon Christophe Rousset, cond; Robert Getchell (Bacchus/La Pythie); Evgueniy Alexiev (Jobate/Pan); Jean Teitjen (Amisodar/Apollon /Woodland Deity/Priest); Cyril Auvity (Bellérophon/Shepherd); Jennifer Borghi (Argie/Pallas/Muse/Amazon/Dryad); Ingrid Perruche Read more class="ARIAL12">(Sténobée/Amazon); Céline Scheen (Philonoe/Napée/Muse); Les Talens Lyriques APARTÉ 15 (2 CDs: 133:42 Text and Translation)

The favor of rulers can help a career, as Lully’s favorite librettist, Philippe Quinault, knew well. It can hinder that career, too, as he discovered in 1677. Louis XIV’s mistress, Madame de Montespan, associated the shrewish and vengeful Juno in Quinalt’s libretto for Isis with herself. He was temporarily banished from the court, leaving Thomas Corneille to write the libretto of Bellérophon for Lully.

Corneille had never written a libretto entirely by himself before. According to the liner notes, he sought advice from Quinault, who demanded that thousands of words be written, before cutting more than half. Yet a contemporary, the musical theorist and writer Lecerf de la Viéville, wrote that it was Lully who required this of Corneille.

Regardless, Corneille could at least take pleasure in knowing he had chosen his subject and its plot well, avoiding Quinault’s error in a court where all but the most abstract art was considered a reflection of contemporary events. The gallant hero Bellérophon was seen as representative of Louis XIV. The Chimera menacing Lycia was likened by its audience to Protestantism, while the evil magician Amisodarus recalled the ongoing investigation into supposed crimes by the herbalist La Voisin, whose nostrums were popular with the fashionable nobility. (She was convicted of witchcraft the following year, and executed.) Bellérophon’s marriage to Philonoe at the end of the opera was said to hint at the peace-through-marriage efforts being made to link Marie-Louise of Orléans with Charles II of Spain.

Lully took the opportunity of a new and subordinate librettist (Quinault was anything but that) to experiment with a kind of heightened recitative, termed récitatif obligé . Accompaniments became more extensive, and speech patterns were stylized into something closer to music, without assuming formal structures. One excellent example of this is act IV, scene 2, where Argie’s multifaceted monologue is eventually interrupted by dialogue with Amisodarus. Though the latter’s comments are set as declamation to standard secco recitative, harpsichord only, Argie’s words always add a bass violin, and a melodic line of expanded interest resembling (in general effect, at least) the speech-song recitative of Italian operas, half a century before. Some of the most imaginative writing in Bellérophon appears in these many passages.

Not that the airs, divertissements, and choruses of the opera are negligible. A couple of the last in particular, “Tout est perdue,” and “Quel horreur!” display ingenuity at achieving a sense of swift, unsettling activity, utilizing shifting meters, varying accents on off-beats, sudden tempo and harmonic changes. Bellérephon isn’t a top-tier work of the composer’s, with vivid portrayals of such characters as Atys, Armide, Ceres (in Proserpine ), and Charon (in Alceste ), but it is a pioneering one, in which the inspired application of récitatif oblige and Lully’s expert sense of organization carries all off well.

The best of the cast has the title role. I’ve praised Cyril Auvity twice before, in Destouches’ Carllirhoé (Glossa 921612) and Lully’s Proserpine (Glossa 921615). Much the same applies here, except that the voice sounds more established within itself at low volume, more of a piece with the clarion, tightly focused instrument it becomes in louder passages. A good example is in “Ce dieu qui chérit la Lycie,” with its different colors, levels of intensity, and forthright leaps—none of which cause Auvity any problems. For sensitivity, ease of movement, and beauty of tone, he is one of the best Baroque tenors we have today.

For the rest, Evgueniy Alexiev is a commanding bass, more resonant and heavier than many French ones I’ve heard, past and present. He knows the role well, but the voice droops, the vibrato is a bit too wide, his intonation at times suspect. Jennifer Borghi is vibrant, though a slightly tremulous quality afflicts all she sings save the lowest notes in her part. Jean Teitjen is very fine indeed, and more of a traditional basse chantante : light but resonant, incisive in character, with a bright top that doesn’t preclude having some solid low notes as called for by the role (“Quel spectacle charmant”). Céline Scheen’s tone is ordinary, but she displays an ability to mirror the frequently shifting emotional weight of her line (“Brisez, brisez une fatale chaine”). Ingrid Perruche presents a detailed and affecting portrait of the overwrought Sténobée, but also possesses a rich, well-edged mezzo that immediately draws attention. Robert Getchell’s tenor lacks tonal distinction, but he enunciates scrupulously, and never neglects the singing line.

Christophe Rousset is clearly the unifying figure here. His energy, scholarship, grasp of style, and sense of cumulative effect are heard throughout. Les Talens Lyriques remains, as ever, tightly disciplined and authoritative.

Bellérophon duplicates a recording method I’ve heard elsewhere on French imports of late, putting the performers through their paces on stage, but in an empty theater. The acoustics make this work, with good balance between voices and instruments, though I think Scheen might have come off better in a studio. Expect no audience noises, but plenty of stage trampling during scene changes.

Definitely recommended. The opera is good, the conducting excellent, and both Auvity and Perruche are more than worthy of whatever accolades they receive.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Bellérophon by Jean-Baptiste Lully
Performer:  Jennifer Borghi (Mezzo Soprano), Evgueniy Alexiev (Bass), Cyril Auvity (Tenor),
Ingrid Perruche (Soprano), Céline Scheen (Soprano), Robert Getchell (Countertenor),
Jean Teitgen (Bass)
Conductor:  Christophe Rousset
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Talens Lyriques

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