Lully: Psyché

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COMPOSERS: Lully
LABELS: CPO
ALBUM TITLE: Lully
WORKS: Psyché
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson, Karina Gauvin, Aaron Sheehan, Colin Balzer, Amanda Forsythe, Mireille Lebel, Yulia Van Doren, Olivier Laquerre, Jason McStoots, Matthew Shaw, Aaron Engebreth; Boston Early Music Festival Chorus & Orchestra/Paul O’Dette, Stephen Stubbs
CATALOGUE NO: 777 367-2

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Lully’s Psyché started life as a ballet in 1671 with a text master-minded by Molière. Over a period of seven years, it was refashioned into an opera. Completed in 1678, it tells of the goddess Venus’s desire to punish Psyché for her universally admired beauty. Her son, L’Amore (Cupid), dispatched to ruin Psyché’s life, promptly falls in love with her and builds her a palace. The third Act hinges on Venus’s jealousies and wiles, resolved when Jupiter takes L’Amore’s side and immortalises Psyché so as to unite the lovers. Psyché is one of Lully’s most expressive scores with a fine range of rich instrumental colour: note the extended ‘Italian lament’ in Act I or Psyché’s beautifully prepared arrival in Act II. Characterisation is also at a premium: Venus is a wonderfully feisty creation, superbly realised by Karina Gauvin, brilliantly partnered by her husband Vulcain, sung with ironic relish by Colin Balzer. Carolyn Sampson brings captivating vocal flexibility and affecting fragility to the title role, well matched by Aaron Sheehan’s L’Amore. In fact, the major parts are uniformly enjoyable. The Boston Early Music Festival show their huge experience of this repertoire under musical directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs. Inevitably, the large cast of soloists is inconsistent, but this does little to detract from a magnificent whole. Jan Smaczny