Lully: Alceste

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Astrée Audivis
WORKS: Alceste
PERFORMER: Jean-Philippe Lafont, Colette Alliot-Lugaz, Howard Crook Ensemble Vocal Sagittarius, La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire
Since Louis XIV adored slapstick and detested exciting music, Euripides comes to us via the librettist Quinault (creator of the tragédie lyrique) with a touch of commedia dell’arte. To be lulled by Lully is a simple matter, for he wrote only the treble and bass lines of arias and had the middle parts filled in by secretaries. Lully, usually at one of his numerous building sites, was the only French composer who made money from the opera in 300 years of its history.


This Alceste has a strong cast of soloists and an excellent supporting instrumental group. The live recording (Théâtre des Champs-Elysées) presents an unsatisfactory sound-image, but the realistic stage effects are splendid, and people crash to the ground with a hiss of air-valves.


The conductor Jean-Claude Malgoire, in an interview, states that ‘whereas Bach and Monteverdi have been systematically published thanks to men like Mendelssohn and Malipiero… [but Mendelssohn published no Bach, and Malipiero no Monteverdi – a group of students and old ladies did it for him] Lully is still waiting for his Mendelssohn’. I cannot believe that a soi-disant French conductor can be ignorant of the many volumes of Lully’s stage works (including Alceste!) edited by the distinguished musicologist Henry Prunières between 1931 and 1939. Are we being conned? Denis Stevens