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LULLY: Amadis

spacer Van Wanroij, Tauran, Perruche, 
Bennani; Auvity, Arnould, Crossley-Mercer; Chamber Chorus of Namur, Les Talens Lyriques, Rousset. Texts and translations. Aparte AP094 (3)


Tired of operas based on mythological stories, Louis XIV ordered composer Jean-Baptiste Lully and librettist Philippe Quinault to create a new spectacle based on the hero Amadis. Whatever difference there was between the exploits of a fictional character drawn from chivalric romance and the doings of gods and goddesses, the opera was a success at its 1684 premiere and was heard in revival until as late as 1771.

The story of Amadis, prince of Gaul, came from Spain, and by the time Lully set the libretto it included four magicians in a cast of eight. For the expected five acts plus prologue, Olympian locales were replaced by magic forests, dungeons, ruins and an enchanted island. Gods and goddesses gave way to sorcerers and princesses, with demons and spellbound heroes available for the requisite dance numbers.

Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques bring stylish command and linguistic ease to a live recording from concert performances given at the Château de Versailles in July 2013. In the title role, French tenor Cyril Auvity turns in an uneven performance, often sounding pressed and quivery, and delivers the famous “Bois épais” of Act II coldly, without expression or suppleness. Auvity’s best moments are in ensembles, especially the touching reunion duets of Act V, as Amadis and his beloved Oriane recover from abduction, confusion, imprisonment and enchantment. 

Judith van Wanroij’s Oriane is a model of French Baroque singing, clear and expressive, with lovely transparency in the high register, as well as some temperament and a nice bite to the voice when needed. For a character who spends most of the opera complaining and lamenting, van Wanroij keeps the listener engaged and connected. In the desolate moments of Act IV, the soprano registers shock, hurt and anger with pointed diction and brings stylish command to the richly orchestrated air “Il m’appelle.” The other human couple, Florestan and Corisande, suffer similar torment, and their lovely and touching duet in the face of death at the hands of the evil magicians is beautifully sung by Benoît Arnould and Hasnaa Bennani. 

The villains of the piece, sister and brother sorcerers Arcabonne and Arcalaüs, are angry for various reasons, the most important of which is the death of their brother Ardan Canile at the hands of Amadis. From her first appearance in Act II, Ingrid Perruche oversings in her attempt at a fierce characterization. She gets the wonderful air “Non, trop de sang,” whose stabbing motives and repeating bass line mirror the sorceress’s harping and tormenting speech, and the splendid, richly orchestrated invocation “Toi, qui dans ce tombeau,” but her sound is unpleasant and wobbly. Edwin Crossley-Mercer fares better, bringing snarly tone without caricature to Arcalaüs’s demonic invocation “Esprits malheureux,” with its heavy beat and authoritative shouts of “Démons, préparez-vous.” 

Husband-and-wife magicians Alquif and Urgande (Pierrick Boisseau and Bénédicte Tauran) appear in the Prologue, and happily the good witch Urgande returns in Act IV to save the day with a rescue aria, “Tremblez, tremblez!” Tauran is a wonderful singer, whose open, clear sound shows plenty of color and heft, with enough flexibility for the filigree in “Il est aisé d’apaiser les querelles.”

Instrumental and choral music is vividly rendered, from the luscious sounds and sensual consonants of Act II’s enchantment music to Act III’s prisoners’ chorus, which, being French, is graceful and poignant in its torment. Lully’s comic alternation of the prisoners’ voices with the gruff yacking of the jailers is especially brilliant; the vocal standouts here are Reinoud Van Mechelen and Caroline Weynants. The concluding chaconne is pointed and buoyant, providing the obligatory celebratory finale, as formerly enchanted heroes and heroines are brought back to life. spacer 


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