Desmarest: Vénus et Adonis

COMPOSERS: Desmarest
LABELS: Ambroisie
ALBUM TITLE: Desmarest
WORKS: Vénus et Adonis
PERFORMER: Karine Deshayes, Anna-Maria Panzarella, Ingrid Perruche, Sébastien Droy, Henk Neven, Jean Teitgen, Anders J Dahlin; Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset

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CATALOGUE NO: AM 127
Henry Desmarest belongs to that talented generation of composers who kept the French opera flag flying between the death of Lully in 1687 and Rameau’s first opera in 1733. Venus and Adonis is a five-Act tragédie lyrique with a libretto by Jean-Baptiste Rousseau whose source was the celebrated love story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. (The opera has a prologue too, but this has been omitted from Christophe Rousset’s live recording.) Rousseau further extends the love interest by introducing Cydipe, a princess whose affection for Adonis is unrequited and whose character eventually reveals strength and nobility.

Desmarest’s score is generously endowed with beguiling airs and invigorating dances but, notwithstanding these virtues, together with a mainly fine line-up of singers, the performance fails to maintain the polished execution that has previously characterised Rousset’s productions. Sébastien Droy’s Adonis takes a while to settle down and his opening Act I music is tonally uncomfortable. Likewise, Anna-Maria Panzarella (Cydipe) is, on occasion, disappointing and notably so in her response to Adonis (CD 1, track 3) ‘Le silence des bois n’inspire de l’effroy’ which too often falls below the note. There are, too, occasional patches of rough string playing as in the sarabande ‘Heureux amans’ (CD 1, track 31).

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Set against these weaknesses, though, are the excellence of Karine Deshayes (Venus), Henk Neven (Mars), Ingrid Perruche (Bellona), and the considerable charm of Desmarest’s music itself whose vitality is sustained throughout Act IV, and its elegance in the Passacaille of Act V. Nicholas Anderson