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Paolo LORENZANI (1640 - 1713): Nicandro e Fileno

Le Nouvel Opéra; Les Boréades de Montréal
Dir: Francis Colpron

rec: Nov 2017, Mirabel (Québec, CAN), Église Saint-Augustin
ATMA - ACD2 2770 (© 2018) (65'14")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

[LNO] Suzie LeBlanc (Filli), Pascale Beaudin (Clori), soprano; Nils Brown (Nicandro), Philippe Gagné (Lidio), tenor; Dominique Côté (Eurillo), Jean-Marc Salzmann (Fileno), baritone
[LBdM] Francis Colpron, recorder; Femke Bergsma, recorder, percussion; Olivier Brault, Peter Lekx, violin; Jacques-André Houle, viola; Marie-Laurence Primeau, viola da gamba; Joëlle Morton, viola da gamba, violone; Isabelle Bozzini, cello; Michel Angers, theorbo, guitar; Mark Edwards, harpsichord

"An Italian in Paris" - that could be the title of a biography of Paolo Lorenzani, an Italian composer who earned the admiration of nobody less than Louis XIV himself. His music was performed at court, much to the king's pleasure. As a result, Lorenzani was the subject of the jealousy of Jean-Baptiste Lully. His activities in France bear witness to the dichotomy of French music life in the second half of the 17th century.

Lorenzani was born in Rome into an artistic family and started his career as a singer in the Cappella Giulia, under the direction of Orazio Benevoli, who for a long time was considered the composer of Biber's Missa Salisburgensis. In 1672 he was appointed maestro di cappella of the Jesuit Chiesa del Gesù and the Seminario Romano. In 1675 motets from his pen were included in two anthologies. In that year he was appointed maestro di cappella of Messina Cathedral. The Duke of Vivonne, brother to Mme de Montespan and Mme de Thianges, was at that time Viceroy of Sicily and in charge of the French forces. For him Lorenzani wrote sacred and secular works. When the Duke was recalled to France, Lorenzani accompanied him.

After his arrival in Paris, the Duke of Vivonne introduced him to the court. When Louis XIV heard one of Lorenzani's motets, he was so pleased that it had to be repeated two times. Lorenzani also received a substantial sum of money, was encouraged to stay in France, and Louis supplied him with much of the funds which allowed him to purchase the position of maître de musique de la reine from Jean-Baptiste de Boësset. In 1679 the king sent Lorenzani to Italy to recruit singers, and he returned with five castratos. This is quite interesting, as officially male singers in soprano and alto parts were not appreciated. In 1651, another Italian-born composer, Giovanni Battista Lulli, better known as Jean-Baptiste Lully, had entered Louis's service. It was his explicit task to develop a purely French style, especially in the field of opera. Lully took that order very seriously, and did everything to expel Italian influences in music life. His main victim was Marc-Antoine Charpentier, who thanks to a sojourn in Rome had been strongly influenced by the Italian style.

However much Louis wanted Lully to develop a French opera, he greatly appreciated Italian music. His protection of Lorenzani bears witness to that. In September 1681, the Duke of Vivonne and the Duke of Nevers (a nephew of Cardinal Mazarin) organised a performance of Nicandro e Fileno, a pastoral opera by Lorenzani, on an Italian text by Nevers. Lully was not pleased by the success of Lorenzani and must have seen him as a threat to his dominance. He tried to prevent the performance, but to no avail. The king reminded him that he had no power over court performances. Louis was very pleased with Lorenzani's opera, and declared he had "never seen a more suitable and noble performance". Lorenzani's successes continued until 1683, when he was without a job due to the death of the queen. He failed to obtain the post of one of the sous-maîtres de musique de la chapelle, and in the years to come it was Michel-Richard de Lalande, who developed into the favourite of the king. In 1693, an edition of his motets sold so badly, that he left France for Rome, where in 1694 he was elected maestro di cappella of the Cappella Giulia.

The present disc includes the pastoral opera which so pleased Louis XIV. It is a short work in three acts, which is a mixture of Italian and French elements. The overture includes the dotted rhythms so characteristic of the French style. The instrumental scoring is for two recorders, strings and basso continuo. The recorders mostly play colla parte with the violins, as was customary in French operas. Les Boréades de Montréal uses two viole da gamba in this performance. Whether this is required in the score is impossible to check; the liner-notes don't mention it.

The story is rather simple, and takes place in the world of Arcadia. We meet the kind of characters which appear in so many Italian chamber cantatas from the late 17th century onwards, such as the nymphs Filli (Phyllis) and Clori (Chloris). The work opens with a dialogue between two elderly men, Nicandro and Fileno. Nicandro suggests he is going to wed Clori and shall give his daughter Filli to Fileno. However, Filli refuses to become Fileno's wife; she will remain a virgin and dedicate herself to Diana. In an aria Filli reveals that she loves Lidio. She then meets Eurillo, who is in love with her. She rejects him, which makes him sing an aria of revenge: he wants to slaughter him who has stolen "the Goddess of my heart". In the second act, we meet Lidio, who confesses that "my heart shows no constant love". He is impressed by Filli's beauty, but can't resist Clori either. Filli overhears his dialogue with Clori, who accepts his love; they sing a duet. Filli then expresses her sorrow in an aria: "I wish I could sleep and never wake". Next follows an aria of revenge by Eurillo, who then meets Filli, who in her sleep says that she does not love Lidio, but Eurillo. When she awakes, she denies loving Eurillo: "I loved you in my dreams, but awake, I detest you". The second act ends with an aria of sorrow from Eurillo. The third act opens with a dialogue between Nicandro and Fileno. They are facing the resistance of Clori and Filli. Fileno acknowledges the reason: "I and you are old". In a duet they express the harsh reality: "A man in his sixties, though he be rich as Midas, or powerful as Darius, can be loved no more". Next Lidio acknowledges that it is Filli he loves, and only toys with Clori. The latter overhears him and gets involved in a rather vicious dialogue with her so-called 'lover'. Next Filli and Lidio sing a love duet, and Clori answers with a rage aria. Eurillo is just as mad that Filli has rejected him. They find each other in their disappointment, and Clori decides to give herself to Eurillo. The opera ends with a chorus: "Shepherds, leave your pastures, come down from the mountains. (...) May our faithful love always prove the glory of the God of Love". The performers have added an extract from the chaconne in Lully's opera Amadis. This may be a tribute to Lorenzani's concessions to the French style, but it is also not without irony, considering Lully's opposition to the performance of this work.

This is a typical pastoral piece, not only because of its characters, but also the way the feelings of the protagonists are expressed. I referred to rage arias; don't expect anything remotely similar to such arias in 18th-century opere serie. They are much more restrained, and the performers rightly don't try to make them more dramatic. The aria of Eurillo in the first act, 'Vendetta, sì, sì' is a perfect example. The same goes for the arias in which the protagonists express their sorrow, which are not very emotional in character. That is not to say that they lack expression: Filli's aria in the second act, 'Con inviti lusinghieri', ends with the bass line descending and then fading away.

Nicandro e Fileno is first and foremost a piece of courtly entertainment, and as such it is well worth being performed. From a historical point of view it is of great interest, as it bears witness to the two faces of the French music scene in the second half of the 17th century. Lorenzani's music definitely deserves more attention. As far as I know only one disc documents his oeuvre: a collection of motets recorded by Hervé Niquet (Naxos, 1998). Francis Colpron and his ensembles have done us a great favour by bringing this pastoral to our attention in such a good performance. The singers deliver stylish interpretations; only Pascale Beaudin uses a bit too much vibrato. But that is about the only issue here. Suzie LeBlanc as Filli is especially good, and I also like Philippe Gagné, who is mentioned as a tenor, but who seems to have the tessitura of an haute-contre. The playing of the ensemble is excellent.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Le Nouvel Opéra
Les Boréades de Montréal

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