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Lully, J.-B.: Psyche [Opera]
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CPO follows its stellar releases of Conradi's Ariadne and Lully's Thésée by the Boston Early Music Festival with an equally extraordinary performance of Lully's Psyché. These are works that have had limited exposure and are known far better by reputation than by performances or recordings. What's revelatory about the recordings of the Lully operas is how exceptionally attractive the music is; it's amazing that works of this quality have been unheard for centuries, and their resurrection, particularly in performances as fine as these, is a cause for rejoicing for any opera lover eager to look beyond the standard repertoire. Lully's vocal writing, even his recitatives, is graceful and expressive, and the numerous ensembles in Psyché are marvels of charm and inventiveness. The variety and cleverness of his orchestration keeps the listener constantly engaged. Much credit goes to Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs, who lead the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra and Chorus, and to all the musicians who contributed to the realization of the score. The performances are elegant, but never stuffy, and they are bursting with energy and liveliness. It's remarkable to encounter a cast of such high quality and consistency; it's a real achievement for the directors to have assembled a cast of over 20 soloists who sing with beautifully pure, fresh, focused tone; the understanding and ability to master the idiom and complex system of middle Baroque French ornamentation and immaculate French pronunciation. They also bring strong, vivid characterizations to their roles, so the performance has real dramatic energy. CPO's sound is absolutely clean and beautifully balanced. Highly recommended. -- AllMusic.com, Stephen Eddins, August 2008
Jeremy Eichler's Top CD Picks of 2008: Lully's opera, the mainstage production at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2006, has been given a richly satisfying recording that captures much of the freshness and elegance of the live performances. The cast includes the sopranos Carolyn Sampson and Karina Gauvin, both in radiant voice. -- Boston.com, Jeremy Eichler, December 2008
Recording of the Month: There is a dignity beyond the usual in the way each charismatic alternation between joviality, joke, joy and profound, perceptiveness, pensiveness is brought out. Neither is the theatricality overplayed in the pace of this performance, nor the beauty of such moments as that in the last scene of Act III, say, [CD2 tr.20] lost. Almost as though the singers were participating to demonstrate 'method-acting' mixed with family therapy with a smile - bravi!
The recording is clean, forward and nicely resonant. The booklet that comes with the three CDs is exceptionally well produced with essays, photographs (albeit somewhat small), the libretto, synopsis and timeline, biographies of the performers and useful background to the production and the Boston Festival.
This is a recording to be snapped up, then. It's to be hoped that, as a result of the high standard set here, Psyché might be heard more often. This is certainly a recording to which one can return time and again, deriving something new and deeper each time. -- Musicweb-International.com, Mark Sealey, October 2008
Top customer reviews
I got it because Paul O'Dette is largely involved with the Boston Music Festival who put this on. I just loved it.
The comprehensive booklet which accompanies this CD includes a timeline which gives much information about Lully. Lully was born in Florence but moved to France in 1645. In 1653, he became attached to the young Louis XIV and became music master to the royal family in 1662. From 1663-1671, Lully worked with the great French dramatist Moliere. But he became most famous for his series of tragedie lyriques that he wrote from 1673 -- 1686 in collaboration with his librettist, Phillipe Quinault.
The theme of Psyche is the centrality of love to life -- a theme which is broader than the philandering of Louis XIV which precipitated the score.Psyche has a complex history. It was originally written in 1671 as a ballet in collaboration with Moliere. The opera dates from 1678 to a libretto by Thomas Corneille. Lully used his 1671 score and also used textual material that Quinault had written.
The opera's two major characters are Psyche, sung by soprano Carol Sampson and Venus, sung by soprano Karen Gauvin. The story is about Venus's jealousy of the beauty of Psyche, a mortal woman. As a result of her jealousy, Venus tries to have Psyche killed by a large serpent, but Psyche is rescued by Amor (Cupid), Venus's son. This exacerbates her jealousy, as Venus tries to end the romance by tricking Psyche into seeing the shape of Amor as a god -- something forbidden to mortals. Venus then sends Psyche to Hades. Act IV of the opera takes place in Hades in a scene that has similarities to Orpheo and many other early operas. Finally, Jupiter intervenes and assuages the anger of Venus by making Psyche immortal. This allows the marriage between Amor and Psyche to proceed. The finale of the opera, to Quinault's text, is a long elaborate wedding scene, in which Mars, Baccus, and Mome(the god of satire) sing of the power of love.
The opera is a spectacle with many elaborate scene changes and effects -- it includes the destruction of a palace, a scene in Hades with demons and terrors, and a scene with the gods on Olympus. As with all French Baroque opera it is also full of dances. The ballets and the effects must be left to the imagination while enjoying this music. French barouqe opera is much more oriented to the written text than the Italian opera of the day. In addition, the French baroque tends not to include either flamboyant arias and vocal displays or long sections of recitivs. The line between aria and recitive tends not to be sharply drawn. The music is elegant, carefully ornamented, and strongly rhythmical, with a distinctly French pattern known as notes inegales.
Psyche begins with a Prologue written to set the stage and to flatter the king and it is followed by five acts. The musical highlights include the long finale, the stylized but angry signing of Venus, and the innocent voice of Psyche. Soprano Yulia Van Doren sings an almost show-stopping aria in the Prologue titled "Flora's minuet." There is a lovely melancholy piece for three recorders titled "Italian Lament" and much elaborate dance music and royal fanfare. Many of the vocal solos are accompanied by an instrument called a theorbo, a large lute-like instrument, or by a baroque guitar. Much of the emotion of the opera is carried by the dance. By operatic standards the singing is restrained but still carries feeling.
The booklet accompanying the CD includes the full text and translation, extensive and useful essays of the opera and its background, photographs of the 2007 live production, and the timeline of Lully's life that I mentioned earlier. This is an essential recording for those who love the French Baroque.
The orchestra, led by the lutenist team of Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs, along with Richard Mealy from the King's Noyse, is just fantastic. Lully's bright and festive music is given a detailed but never fussy or clinical treatment. The festival itself was called "A Feast of the Gods" and there is plenty for you mere mortals to feast on here.
Fans of Lully and the French Baroque in general will know what to expect and explorers will be well rewarded. Very highly recommended, along with the other BEMF recordings.Johann Georg Conradi: AriadneLully - Thésée