Sabine Devieilhe: "Le Grand Théâtre de L'Amour"
Arias and scenes by Rameau. With Boden, Lefèvre; Les Ambassadeurs, Kossenko. Texts and translations. Erato 5099993414920
The Rameau anniversary takes off with a stunning disc from Les Ambassadeurs that showcases the powerful theatrical music of this preeminent French Baroque composer, who died 250 years ago, and brings attention to the captivating singing of French soprano Sabine Devieilhe. Colorful, expressive extracts from twelve operas and ballets, including the relatively obscure Anacréon and Naïs, are fashioned convincingly into a handsome new dramatic work dubbed "Le Grand Théâtre de l'Amour."
Grand and theatrical it certainly is, with a love story cleverly threaded through a charming, innocent prologue, alarmingly interrupted by the overture to Pygmalion, then moving on to a concluding chaconne, which restores order and ushers in the optimistic postlude. Along the way, instrumental tambourins, birdsong arias, atmospheric interludes and the obligatory sleep scene emphasize the astonishing range of Rameau's harmonic and coloristic inventiveness, brought to vibrant life by conductor Alexis Kossenko.
Devieilhe is a delight, her singing arresting and stylish, from the clear timbre, gently warmed with a variety of vibrato effects, to exquisite trills of every speed and density. With plenty of bloom on top, the voice descends with a lovely focus, and she exhibits musical imagination as well as sensitivity to instrumental colors and textures. La Folie's "Aux langueurs d'Apollon," from Platée, is a sendup of Italian mad scenes, and it's a pleasure to hear all the musical jokes — stuck harmonies, lopsided phrases, repeated notes, charming laughter — delivered with a light touch. Kossenko, a superb flutist, is featured in the limpid "Feuillages verts" and the tender, melting "Viens, Hymen," in which he blends with Devieilhe like a second singer.
Combining precision and alertness with vigor and delicacy, the responsive ensemble stomps out peasant dances, echoes the despair of "Coulez mes pleurs" and enhances the rich sonorities of "Tristes apprêts" (from Castor et Pollux) with lyrical bassoon lines that underline Devieilhe's expressive singing. In the magnificent "Un horizon serein," from Les Boréades, the strings' palpitating repeated notes and windy blasts from the horns create an ominous atmosphere and capture the drama of storms gathering and dying away.
Even more spectacular scenes from Les Indes Galantes, in which the soprano is joined by tenor Samuel Boden and baritone Aimery Lefèvre, include a volcanic eruption and special effects from a wind machine, along with crashes, lightning flashes and slashing, agitated strings, as a terrified sailors' chorus prepares to drown. Kudos to Erato's excellent sound engineering for bringing this wonderful disc to vivid life.
Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.