Gretry: Andromaque

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COMPOSERS: Gretry
LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Andromaque
PERFORMER: Karine Deshayes, Maria Wesseling, Sébastien Guèze, Tassis Chrystoyannis, Matthieu Heim; Concert Spirituel Choir & Orchestra/Hervé Niquet
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 921620

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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).

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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