Christophe Rousset Conducts Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Zaïs

Performed by Julian Prégardien, Sandrine Piau, Aimery Lefèvre, Benoît Arnould, Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Hasnaa Bennani Le Choeur de chambre de Namur and Les Talens Lyriques.

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LABELS: Aparté
PERFORMER: Julian Prégardien, Sandrine Piau, Aimery Lefèvre, Benoît Arnould, Amel Brahim-Djelloul, Hasnaa Bennani; Choeur de chambre de Namur; Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset


Scored for ‘tambour voilé’ (muffled drum) and bitter, brusque strings, the overture to Zaïs depicts Chaos and the Elements, and is as arresting as the opening of Rébel’s Les elements. So why is it not as well known? Rameau’s 1748 ballet héroique is a bizarre work, tinted in exotic colours and decorated with an abundance of pretty dances. At its heart is a series of cruel supernatural deceptions by which the title character, an immortal, tests the love of the faithful shepherdess Zélidie. Christophe Rousset’s recording is distinguished by a dazzling variety of articulation, dynamics and timbres, which glosses the weakness of the libretto. The playing of Les Talens Lyriques is supple and characterful but stock French Baroque effects (thunder and trilling birds) pop up with unusual frequency in this score, losing potency with each repetition.


The Prologue is charmingly sung by sopranos Amel Brahim-Djelloul (Une Sylphide) and Hasnaa Bennani (Amour), baritone Aimery Lefèvre (Oromazès) and the Choeur de chambre de Namur. Delicious dances aside, the remainder of the work is carried by Julian Prégardien (Zaïs), Sandrine Piau (Zélidie) and Benoît Arnould (Cindor). From the delicacy of ‘Ce que je vois m’offre sans cesse’ in Act I to the utter desolation of ‘Coulez mes pleurs’ in Act III and the ecstatic beauty of ‘Pour les coeurs tendres et constants’, Piau is faultlessly expressive and stylish. Arnould animates Cindor’s scheming recitatives brilliantly, but Prégardien lacks charisma in the role of Zaïs. Anna Picard