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Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632 - 1687): Airs & récits

[I] "Ballets & récits italiens"
Yetzabel Arias Fernández, Emanuela Galli, Stefanie True, soprano
La Risonanza
Dir: Fabio Bonizzoni

rec: Oct 2008, Brunello (Varese), Chiesa di Santa Maria Annunciata
Glossa - GCD 921509 (© 2009) (72'03")

[II] "Le Triomphe de l'Amour"
les sentimens
Dir: Eugène Michelangeli

rec: August 18 - 20, 2008, Vienna, Palais Clam Gallas (Institut Français de Vienne)
ORF - CD 3076 (© 2009) (69'15")

[I] Ballet d'Alcidiane (LWV 9): ouverture; ritournelle; air 'Amiam dunque, infin ch'è lecito'; chaconne des Maures; petite chaconne; duo 'Cede al vostro valore'; Ballet de l'Amour malade (LWV 8): ritournelle; air 'Que les jaloux sont importuns; air 'E che sarebbe amor senza cochette?'; Ballet de la Raillerie (LWV 11): ouverture; ritournelle; trio 'L'un dell'altro ognun si burla'; Ballet des Amours déguisés (LWV 21): plainte d'Armide 'Ah, Rinaldo, e dove sei?'; Ballet de Flore (LWV 40): plainte de Vénus 'Ah, quelle cruauté'; Le bourgeois gentilhomme (LWV 43): Le Ballet des Nations (4e entrée; air 'Di rigori armata il seno'; entrée des Scaramouches; chaconne; duo 'Bel tempo che vola'; réjouissance; chaconne); Psyché (LWV 45): air 'Deh, piangete al pianto mio'
[II] Amadis (LWV 63): Air pour les démons et les monstres; Toy qui dans ce tombeau; Ah! tu me trahis; chaconne; Florestan! Corisande!; Amour, que veux-tu de moy?; Armide (LWV 71): Arrestons-nous icy; Ah! Si la liberté me doit être ravie; passacaille; Le perfide Renaud me fuit; Bellérophon (LWV 57): ouverture; Que se jardin se change en un désert affreux; premier air; Quel spectacle charmant; Cadmus et Hermione (LWV 49): Je vais partir belle Hermione; Amour, voy quels maux tu nous fais; Le Triomphe de l'Amour (LWV 59): Tranquilles coeurs; Persée (LWV 60): Les vents impétueux; Phaëton (LWV 61): ouverture; Heureux qui peut voir du rivage; Heureuse un âme indifférente

[I] Leila Schayegh, Ana Liz Ojeda, violin; Caterina Dell'Agnello, basse de violon; Gabriele Palomba, theorbo; Fabio Bonizzoni, harpsichord
[II] Elizabeth Dobbin, soprano; Matthias Helm, bass; Anne Marie Dragosits, Eugène Michelangeli, harpsichord

Jean-Baptiste Lully is generally known for being the dominant composer in France in the second half of the 17th century and a staunch defender of a true French style. In this capacity he has the reputation of opposing any Italian influence in music, despite the fact that he was Italian by birth. One wonders why he tried to be almost more French then the French themselves, as it were, but every explanation has to be speculative. What most people don't know is that he has composed music on Italian text and in Italian style. It is this part of his oeuvre Fabio Bonizzoni is paying attention to in his recording of ballets and récits italiens.

Lully was just fourteen when he arrived in Paris as garçon de chambre for Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans, cousin of Louis XIV, being expected to converse with her in Italian. At the time the Italian culture was quite popular in France, and that included Italian music. In 1604 Giulio Caccini and his family had visited Paris and he and his daughter Francesca had performed there to great acclaim. When Lully arrived in Paris the central figure was Cardinal Mazarin, also of Italian birth, who invited Italian musicians to promote Italian music in France. He instigated a production of L'Orfeo, an opera by Luigi Rossi. This work was performed in 1647 and it is possible that Lully did attend the performance.

What is an established fact is his participation in the production of two other Italian operas, Xersés (1660) and Ercole amante (1662), both by Francesco Cavalli, and performed at the occasion of the wedding of Louis XIV and the Spanish Infanta Maria Teresa. Lully was asked to compose the ballets which were to be performed between the acts. As Barbara Nestola states in the programme notes it was mainly through Italian music performed in Paris and Italian musicians working in the city that Lully became acquainted with the Italian style as he was too young when he went to Paris to have picked it up in Italy.

Between 1657 and 1665 Lully composed music for several ballets on Italian texts. The first was the Ballet de l'Amour malade of which only a couple of fragments are extant. In 1658 Lully composed a scene for the Ballet d'Alcidiane, again on an Italian text. When Lully started to cooperate with Molière his composing to Italian texts didn't stop. In 1670 the famous comédie-ballet Le bourgeois gentilhomme was performed, which ends with the 'Ballets des Nations' in which the French, the Italian and the Spaniards are musically depicted. The next year Psyché, another comédie-ballet was performed. The first intermède of this work is also entirely written on an Italian text.

This production of some of the Italian music Lully has written can't be valued highly enough. Although Psyché and Le bourgeois gentilhomme are available on disc in complete recordings it is very worthwhile to put the Italian sections of these works in this context. And most other works from which fragments are recorded here are virtually ignored. In addition this repertoire is given exquisite performances by Fabo Bonizzoni with his excellent ensemble La Risonanza. He has invited three singers who give top-notch accounts of the various vocal parts. The main part of the repertoire is sung by Emanuela Galli who has a beautiful voice and a great dramatic flair. Stefanie True is a very young Canadian soprano who has just finished her studies but has already made great impression in performances of cantatas by Handel. Yetzabel Arias Fernández hasn't much to sing, but her contribution is of the same standard. The instrumental movements are given colourful and stylish performances by La Risonanza. The booklet contains all the information one needs, with all lyrics in English translation.

With the second disc we are on more familiar ground, although several operas from which fragments are performed, have not been recorded completely yet. Among them are Le Triomphe de l'Amour and Bellérophon. But we don't get here arias, duets and instrumental pieces in their original form. It is pocket opera which les sentimens has recorded.

This is not an invention by the performers but based on a historical practice. After Lully's death his operas were printed in reduced form, with the vocal parts and only the upper and bass parts of the orchestral score. This way the most famous parts of Lully's operas could be performed in the salons of Paris, alongside chamber cantatas and instrumental sonatas. It was also quite usual to perform instrumental music, written for whatever instruments, on two harpsichords.

So what we get here is an insight into a widespread musical practice reflecting the habits and tastes of the French upper class. As Eugène Michelangeli writes in the programme notes: "In imaging a Parisian musical salon at the beginning of the 18th century, we may find two singers and two harpsichordists who have been put together their favourite airs and scenes by Lully, performing them before a select audience ..." This also indicates that the addition to the title on the back of the tray - "Pasticcio from operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully" - is historically speaking incorrect. A pasticcio has a clear story line which is absent here.

The programme consists of arias and scenes which are alternated with instrumental pieces. Of course, a chaconne (from Amadis) and a passacaille (from Armide) are included as no opera could do without them. Elizabeth Dobbin and Matthias Helm give very good performances of the vocal items. At first I found the latter a little too loud, but I got used to it, and in the duets there is a good balance between the two voices. Anne Marie Dragosits and Eugène Michelangeli have worked out the instrumental parts in a creative way and give energetic and rhythmically supple performances.

The booklet contains informative programme notes as well as notes on the various pieces chosen for this disc. For every item the opera, the act and scene from which it is taken is given, with an explanation of its content and the context in the opera. Also included are the lyrics with an English translation.

This disc is recommendable for both historic and purely musical reasons. It also whets the appetite for Lully's operas and one can only hope that the gaps in the Lully discography will be filled in the near future.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

La Risonanza

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