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(Nov 08, 2011)
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Lully's Atys was so dear to Louis XIV that it became known as the 'the King's opera.' With its unprecedented dramatic intensity, Atys was the first opera to feature a plot that revolved around love and the first French tragedy to kill off its lead character on stage. The opera was revived in 1985 when the Opéra de Paris called on William Christie and the director Jean-Marie Villégier to stage a celebration of the tercentenary of Lully's death. Resurrected from the ashes, Atys was a key factor in the revival of French baroque music. In 2011, the Opéra Comique once again presented Atys, and that production was filmed by FRA Musica for posterity. Featuring tenor Bernard Richter in the title role, supported by Christie and Les Arts Florissants and the amazing production created by Jean Marie Villégier, this film is nothing short of a masterpiece and a milestone in recorded opera.
Hard on the heels of Armide comes this equally splendid DVD of Atys… this visually sumptuous production will satisfy the most diehard traditionalist. --Gramophone, Editor's Choice
Mr. Christie and his visionary troupe made a classic audio recording of Lully s masterpiece in 1987, soon after they had first performed it. But we now have a visual record of Jean-Marie Villégier s essential, unsurpassedly elegant production, captured in Paris during the revival tour this year. It is simply one of the wonders of the world. --The New York Times
The Sun King s favorite opera, given a beautiful and traditional performance... This is another in a very rewarding series of early musique productions on this label and ought to please anyone interested in the Baroque or anyone who wants a very different and pleasant operatic experience. --Audiophile Audition
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Top Customer Reviews
Atys is the fourth Tragedie en Musique by Lully and the very gifted poet Philippe Quinault. (The first written by this team Les Fetes de l'Amour et de Bacchus is a pastoral) By the time of this score the subplots and comedic intrusions, so common in Italian Opera at the time, had all but diappeared in Lully's writing. The drama was enhanced so much that in the finale, the death of Atys by his own hand is truly tragic. There are now DVDs available of several of Luly's works, among them are Cadmus et Hermione, Persee' and the comedie-ballet Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme written with Moliere. All are very enjoyable and highly recommended. I am particularly enthused by the production of Persee'. It is a great pleasure to have all of these to enjoy that we read about in that music class of many years ago.
For those who are new to the French Baroque, this music may have a certain peculiarity to its style, but it is lovely, expressive and can be excitingly sophisticated. Many have commented on the all very important and beautiful dream sequence in Act 3 (where Atys was first told of and then warned of Cebele's demanding affection). The quarrel and reconciliation between Atys and Sangaride in Act IV starts as recitative that naturally flows into a heart-breaking duet - somewhere in their hearts, the two lovers knew that there would be no tomorrow for them. I also love Cebele's music - her entrance at the end of Act 1 is permeated with a regal, ceremonial air; her laments at the end of Act 3 (when she first had the suspicion of the love between Atys and Sangaride) and Act 5 (over Atys' tragic death) are both very touching and show her startlingly human side. Unusual for Baroque operas, Quinault's libretto (excluding the prologue) does not fool around with secondary characters or irrelevant subplots. Every scene in it pushes the story forward; every bit of it makes perfect theatrical sense - its integrity and compactness is unparallelled even in Lully and Quinault's canon.
William Christie directs Les Arts Florissants with elan and understanding. His cast is uniformly strong. The clear-voiced Atys, played by the impressive young tenor Bernard Richter, is ever alert to the musical dynamics and the dramatic situations of his character; his final scene is especially powerful. Stephanie d'Oustrac's Cebele uses less vocal embellishment than Guillemette Laurens in the original 1987 sound recording, but she phrases and colors her tone with meaning; her acting is deeply felt. Similarly, Emmanuelle de Negri's portrayal of Sangaride is exquisitely detailed (perhaps more so in her acting than singing). Her betrothed, King Celenus is authoritatively played by Nicolas Rivenq (he played this role in the 1987 production), though vocally he is less fresh than usual. The chorus sings with clear diction and finds different shades in each emotion that it is called on to project.
The set and costumes are beautifully designed and crafted, full of details (indeed, sumptuous is the word). I have no problem that the stage and all the performers are dressed up in Louis XIV's court style, because Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, says earlier in the prologue that Cebele wants her to present this story, to commemorate Atys. The show itself is thus a retelling of the legend, making a style that honors Lully's time and culture no less appropriate than any other. (In fact, the 17 century court style gives the director more means to suggest the state of mind of characters, for example, when Atys and Sangaride shed their wigs in the final act, you know that they no longer considered themselves part of the Cebele-Phrygian establishment.) Jean-Marie Villegier's stage direction is clearly originated from the text; rich, potent, and sensitive, it enhances the musical experience very nicely. Dancing elements, so important to French Baroque operas, are relatively suppressed in Atys (a sound judgment by the authors), but whenever given space (as in the dream sequence), they gently flourish and add much to the pleasure.
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