Les Surprises De Lamour / Sebastian D'herin, Les Nouveaux Caracteres

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RAMEAU Les surprises de l’Amour Sébastien d’Hérin, cond; Amel Brahim-Djelloul ( Adonis ); Virginie Pochon ( Venus, Parthénope ); Caroline Mutel ( Vénus, Amour ); Karine Deshayes ( Diane, Uraine, The Grand Priestess ); Anders Dahlin ( Mercure, Linus, Agathocie ); Pierre-Yves Pruvot ( Apollo ); Jean-Sébastien Bou ( Anacréon ); Les Nouveaux Caractères GLOSSA 922701 (3 CDs: 146:28 Text and Translation)

The opéra-ballet Les surprises de l’Amour went through several revisions, a practice Rameau regularly engaged in when new productions of his works were mounted (and not infrequently during the middle of runs, as well). It first appeared in 1748, as a prolog followed by what later became its second and first acts. This was for a celebration of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle at Versailles. (Madame de Pompadour, a highly cultured patroness, was supposedly very pleased with the results.) In 1757 the work was overhauled for the Paris Opéra, with its dated prolog jettisoned, the two extent acts inverted, and a third added. Scarcely two months later Rameau replaced the second act, but a year later it was returned—and that is the version we have on this album. All of these revisions were accompanied by other changes to whatever was retained.

Les surprises de l’Amour fits comfortably in to the genre of the mid-18th-century opéra-ballet . It consists of a series of three independent one-act works, united thematically in their Louis XV period obsession with love, and the inevitable French requirement to cloak everything in Greco-Roman garb. In the first act, Adonis, kept in chaste captivity by the huntress/goddess Diana, is kidnapped by Cupid, seduced by Venus, and ultimately chooses the latter over the former goddess. In the second act, the siren Parthenope desires the mortal Linus as a lover, but he’s enraptured with the muse of astronomy, Urania. The latter warns Linus to focus on intellectual pursuits and forget about love, which Parthenope considers dirty pool—so she enchants a lyre which Urania discovers and plays, only to gradually lose all control over her carefully sublimated emotions. Apollo appears to save the day. In the third act, the poet Anacreon, famous since Roman times for his passions embracing both love and wine, decides on love. This causes some temporary problems with Bacchus’s worshipers, as you might guess, but everything turns out all right in the end.

(Parenthetically, it was the distinguished scholar Aubrey de Sélincourt who once wrote that most of Anacreon’s poems express a desire to drink, and that there exists a fragment of one where he writes of having some secret he wished he could have passed along to Sappho, far his elder. Sélincourt suggests it might have been a desire to share a drink with her.)

There was a time when even learned and sensible critics dismissed French Baroque opera en masse for a lack of coherent drama, endless padding, and frivolous subject matter. With repeated productions on stage and records this view has retreated somewhat, though it can still be found in reviews of such works as this opéra-ballet . In brief rebuttal: The drama is often more coherent and better written than in 19th-century opera; the padding isn’t padding when the entertainment form itself deliberately incorporates dance and spectacle as part of the fun; and the librettos, while limited in their breadth, often reveal a psychological perceptiveness worthy of Marivaux. Consider the first of the three parts of this work, “L’Enlèvement d’Adonis.” It isn’t Jupiter’s trick of disguising Adonis to look like a second Cupid and asking Diana to choose the right one that stymies her. It is Adonis’s refusal to speak out and identify himself, which isn’t forbidden. The action of Adonis breaks her will, not those of Jupiter, Cupid, or Venus, and in a silence that speaks more eloquently than all Diana’s fury and despair.

And, being composed by Rameau, wonderful examples of fury and despair, as well as anger, fear, mirth, and, of course, love in many expressive shades, abound. The music ranges in depth from the charming though detached air “Chantez la faveur” of Urania to the surprisingly austere condemnation by Bacchus’s Priestess (with excellent three-part counterpoint), to the powerful, discordant scene for Diana and chorus, “Adonis, Adonis … pourquoi nous fuyez-vous.” Urania’s mad scene, with the muse falling increasingly under the spell of the music on the lyre she herself plays, is another highlight of the work—as is the supple recitative throughout, and the many dances that equal anything Rameau composed for any of his other stage works.

None of the performances are execrable, and a few are exceptional. Amel Brahim-Djelloul stands out in the first section not only for tonal beauty and phrasing, but for an extremely forward enunciation that surpasses that of her colleagues. Anders Dahlin is a sweet rather than powerful haute-contre , and while doing justice to all three roles, is at his best as the love-struck Linus. Finally, Karine Deshayes makes the most of all the dramatic possibilities she receives in three parts, as Diane, Uraine, and the Grand Priestess of Bacchus. Sébastien d’Hérin leads Les Nouveaux Caractères in exciting but disciplined performances. The orchestra never swamps the singers, and the result is one of the best recordings of a Rameau stage work in several years.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: GCD 922701

  • UPC: 8424562227019

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Jean-Philippe Rameau

  • Conductor: Sébastien D'Hérin

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Les Nouveaux Caractères

  • Performer: Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Anders J. Dahlin, Caroline Mutel, Jean-Sébastien Bou, Karine Deshayes, Pierre-Yves Pruvot, Virginie Pochon