Marais: Sémélé

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LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Sémélé
PERFORMER: Shannon Mercer, Bénédicte Tauran, Jaël Azzaretti, Hjördis Thébault, Anders J Dahlin, Thomas Dolié, Lisandro Abadie, Marc Labonnette; Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet


Largely due to the popular film Tous les matins du Monde, Marin Marais is today best known as a virtuoso performer and composer of music for the viol. But having lived and breathed the theatre for years as an orchestral player under Lully, Marais also produced a number of first-rate Tragédies Lyriques – works in which he fused traditions of opera and ballet to thrilling effect. The Sun King would no doubt have delighted in this decorative retelling of the myth Semele, with its themes of fire and divine power, and its ever-changing kaleidoscope of musical numbers. Stressing the lyrical more than the tragic, Marais conjures up a brilliant succession of choruses, sensuous solos, dramatic ensembles, descriptive symphoneis, ceremonial marches and dances. His distinctive harmonic language spices up the action at key moments, while his use of orchestral timbres pre-echoes Rameau in its inventiveness:flutes, recorders, oboes, musettes, bassoons, trumpet and a battery of percussion instruments transform scenes from a pastoral idyll with twittering birds to an infernal, Stygian landscape or a tremulous earthquake. Hervé Nigel dircts a tense, visceral performance, highlighting the all-pervasive influence of dance rhythms and the drive of the action. He throws into high relief the work’s few moment’s of repose, among which are two languid arias for the eponymous heroine, with sinuous flutes underscoring her amorous invitations. Mercer’s semele seduces and smouldering Jupiter (Thomas Dolié) succumbs. The results are dazzling.