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The Tragedy of Armide

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Audio CD, October 28, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Armide represents the culmination of the long and fruitful career of Jean-Baptiste Lully, the most powerful musician at the court of Louis XIV and the first important composer of French opera. Though not his final composition, Armide was his last comp

Review

This recording is the third of Lully's Armide; the other two, from 1983 (Erato) and 1992 (Harmonia Mundi), were led by Philippe Herreweghe. The first, which I've not heard, eliminated the opera's fourth act, in which minor characters are tempted by Armide and the plot is otherwise not advanced. The second recording, starring Guillaumette Laurens and Howard Crook as Armide and Renaud, is complete and is an elegant reading, with some fire from Laurens.

The Washington, DC-based Opera Lafayette's recording under consideration here is trimmed. Gone is the Prologue, which is the usual love poem to Louis XIV that these operas called for, this one with the allegorical figures of Wisdom and Glory praising him to the skies. It contains some lovely music, but is superfluous to the plot; it was cut as early as 1761 (probably a political rather than musical decision; in any event Louis never saw the work). Conductor Ryan Brown also chops a few repeats in the dances, one of the Shepherd's arias, and a few minutes of the fourth act. I didn't miss any of it, dramatically, but it's nice to know it can be heard on Herreweghe's second recording. Brown gives us two hours of cohesive music-drama.

The plot is well-known, and in fact the same libretto (by Phillippe Quinault) was set by Gluck in 1776 (the Lully dates from 1686). Opera lovers also will be familiar with the Rossini and Handel operas that treat the story of the sorceress Armida's infatuation with the knight, Rinaldo; there are variations, but the outlines are the same.

Lully's opera, his last, was a great and lasting success, what with demons destroying enchanted palaces and all, and with music that never ceases to please. Both leads are well drawn, with Armide's wickedness on a grand scale (her love for Renaud almost enough for us to feel for her) and Renaud's valor and sweetness displayed in equal proportion. The dance intervals are colorfully scored and utterly delightful.

The stars of this set, the mezzo Stephanie Houtzeel and tenor Robert Getchell, are excellent. She has plenty of character to her tone, sings with nice ferocity in her second-act "Enfin il est en ma puissance", charm in the fifth-act love duet, and both resignation and fury in her final number. The voice is substantial, and while she never resorts to chest voice, a good snarl occasionally slips out. Laurens has only a slight edge over Houtzeel; the former is more comfortable with ornamentation and dramatic stresses.

No apologies need be made for Robert Getchell, a "French" tenor of the best kind, heroically "bright" enough and gently loving enough, singing with fine French diction. And his tone is beautiful. (A note: He studied with Howard Crook.) The cast's other standout, tenor Tony Boutté, sings a Danish Knight (some of his music is omitted in Act 4) and a Lucky Lover and I'm sure he will soon be graduating to the role of Renaud. His voice sits high and is clear enough for Gluck's Orphée as well.

William Sharp uses his not-very-weighty baritone voice to enliven La Haine, and he means every word. As Armide's confidantes, Ann Monoyios and Miram Dubrow are effective, though the latter strays from pitch early on as Sidonie. François Loup, doing double duty as Hidraot, Armide's wicked uncle, and Ubalde, Renaud's good friend, oversings as the former to compensate for a tone not quite large enough. The others are all excellent.

I wish that Ryan Brown's orchestra were bigger; there are some moments in this work that require more sheer noise than 27 players can make (and they don't always play at once). Herreweghe gets it just right and the drama seems properly dark despite the inherent frills. To sum up, not only is this set the only one currently available, it's a bargain and very good all around. You'll miss about 30 minutes of music, but the two hours you do get are splendid. -- ClassicsToday.com, Robert Levine, April 2009

Disc: 1
1. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Ouverture
2. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 1. Scene 1. Ritournelle / Dans un jour de triomphe
3. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 1. Scene 3. Marche / Armide est encor plus aimable
4. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 1. Scene 3. Sarabande: Rondeau / Suivons Armide, et chantons sa Victoire
5. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 1. Scene 4. Que la douceur d'un triomphe est extrême
6. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 1. Entr'acte
7. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 2. Scene 1. Invincible Héros, c'est par votre courage
8. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 2. Entr'acte (Marche)
Disc: 2
1. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 3. Scene 2. Que ne peut point votre art?
2. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 3. Entr'acte (Air)
3. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 4. Scene 2. Voici la charmante Retraite / Gavotte / Canaries / Allons, qui vous retient encore?
4. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 4. Entr'acte (Air)
5. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 5. Scene 1. Ritournelle / Armide, vous m'allez quitter?
6. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 5. Scene 3. Ritournelle / Il est seul
7. Armide, opera, LWV 71: Act 5. Scene 4. Renaud? Ciel! O mortelle peine!

Product Details

  • Performer: Stephanie Houtzeel, Robert Getchell, François Loup, William Sharp, Ann Monoyios, et al.
  • Orchestra: Opera Lafayette
  • Conductor: Ryan Brown
  • Composer: Jean-Baptiste Lully
  • Audio CD (October 28, 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Naxos Opera
  • ASIN: B001F1YBYY
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,153 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 1, 2008
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The Opera Lafayette is a period ensemble in Washington.D.C. conducted by Ryan Brown that specializes in French Baroque Music. In 2007, the Opera Lafayette realized the highly creative idea of an "Armide project." It presented performance of the two great settings of librettist Philippe Quninault's (1635-1688) setting of "Armide." The first setting is by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632 -- 1687) composed in 1686. It was the last of many collaborations between Lully and Quinault on French Tragedie Lyrique. The second setting of Quinault's libretto was by Gluck in 1776. At the time, Gluck was resident in Paris and reset the Quinault libretto as a deliberate challenge to show he could surpass Lully's then famous score. Until recently it was rare to hear live performances of either version of "Armide." It was the experience of a lifetime to hear both Lully and Gluck at the University of Maryland with Brown. The performance of Lully used a fully professional cast while Brown used student performers from the University of Maryland in Gluck's "Armide".

This new 2-CD recording on Naxos of Lully's "Armide" by Brown and Opera Lafayette was made in conjunction with the live Armide project. The recording features mezzo-soprano Stephanie Houtzeel in the role of Armide and tenor Robert Getchell as Renaud. "Armide" is set in the 11th Century during the first Crusade and tells of the doomed love between the sorceress Armide and the hero Renaud. In the story, Armide seeks to kill Renaud after he has single-handedly freed prisoners Armide's forces have captured during battle. But she is unable to do so because she falls in love with Renaud instead. She then casts a spell on Renaud so that he loves her.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kiwimezzo on July 29, 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
A beautiful performance all round - I couldn't fault it.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful By DAVID BRYSON VINE VOICE on December 5, 2008
Format: Audio CD
Six years and more ago I sent in a review of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas as one of my first reviews on this site. At the time I warned any readers that the 17th century was an all but total blank in my knowledge of music. Asking myself what I have done about that since, I find that I have acquired quite a good knowledge of Purcell but remain as ignorant as ever about the rest. In particular, until now the rest of the music of France between the Troubadours and Couperin has been silence to me. Anything I have to say about a performance of Lully's Armide is therefore likely to be significant, if to anyone, only to others in a similar position of trying to improve their knowledge and understanding of this school of music.

This is a scholarly performance, which is not to say a pedantic one. The performing edition, together with an introductory essay, is based on the work of the eminent expert Lois Rosow, although the director himself takes responsibility for editorial cuts, which he lists in detail. I have no difficulty with this in principle, and whatever I may be missing by way of more music, Ryan Brown's reasons seem to me sensible. In particular I cannot see that all these centuries later we should feel any obligation to include in a tragedy of Armide a Prologue extolling the reign of Louis XIV and denouncing Protestantism. I am however intrigued by Lois Rosow's concluding statement that `editorial percussion has been added.' Does this mean all the percussion, or only extra percussion? There is some very effective timpani work at appropriate points, plus some sort of tambourine or the like here and there.

Cuts or no cuts, Lully's Armide is no miniature work. It lasts over 2 hours here, which makes it longer than not just Dido and Aeneas but even than La Boheme.
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