L’Opéra des Opéras
Excerpts from operas by Rameau, Lully, Charpentier, Campra, Marais etc
Katherine Watson (soprano), Karine Deshayes (mezzo-soprano), Reinoud van Mechelen (tenor); Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
Alpha Classics ALPHA 442 74:10 mins
A cover that features the cast of the ’60s American TV show Bewitched? On his own admission, Hervé Niquet takes a wry delight in cultural surprise with a ‘liking for things that are a bit … off the beaten track.’ L’Opéra des Opéras is a collage of arias, choruses and orchestral interludes from almost a century of French Baroque opera with plenty of masters such as Lully, Charpentier Campra and Rameau rubbing shoulders with lesser-known composers Leclair, Montéclair and De Mondonville. As Niquet reminds us in a note in the programme booklet, there are clear precedents for such hybrid entertainments at Versailles in the reigns of the last three Bourbon kings of France.
What they would have made of Niquet’s ‘story’ is another matter. The characters from Bewitched become a familiar Baroque love triangle: princess loves prince who is also loved by a powerful sorceress. A rampaging monster is vanquished, there’s a storm conjured up by the jealous witch to kill the Prince, but all ends well and the boy gets the girl. If the story is thin, the music stylishly performed by Le Concert Spirituel is often magnificent. Campra provides an exquisite duet for the lovers, ‘Volez, jeune héros’ from Achille et Déidamie. And the entertainment ends with Lully’s glorious Passacaille from Armide. If the orchestra, particularly the principal flautist and trumpeter, rather overshadow the soloists, Reinoud van Mechelen is just the kind of high tenor you want in this music. He deserves the girl.