Gretry: Andromaque

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Andromaque
PERFORMER: Karine Deshayes, Maria Wesseling, Sébastien Guèze, Tassis Chrystoyannis, Matthieu Heim; Concert Spirituel Choir & Orchestra/Hervé Niquet


Grétry composed this work in 1780, when he had already had ten years of success writing comic operas in Paris. But this is a tragedy with a text derived from the revered dramatist Jean Racine, and it ends with the stage littered with dead bodies – Andromache of Troy (wife of the dead Hector) kills herself rather 

than live with Pyrrhus (ruler of Epirus in north-west Greece); Hermione (rejected lover of Pyrrhus) has Pyrrhus killed, and then stabs herself to death; and Hermione’s lover, Orestes, then attempts to commit suicide. 

The performers face interesting challenges here because Grétry’s music is not up to the histrionic mayhem. Some scenes do come off – the lovely exchange between Andromache and the chorus at Hector’s tomb (Act III, Scene 1) is brought to life by the mezzos: Karine Deshayes’s mercurial and heartfelt expression in the title role, and Maria Wesseling as Hermione makes the most of her full-blooded ‘revenge’ monologue (Act III, Scene 3).


But elsewhere the fine, clear voice of tenor Sébastien Guèze as Pyrrhus is made by the music to sound as if he is addressing a public meeting (Act I, Scene 4) rather than quietly pleading for Andromache’s attention, and the overture to Act I is ridiculously perky for a tragedy. Under Hervé Niquet’s guidance, the orchestral sound is always tuneful, piquant and alert. Anthony Pryer