Lully: Roland

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LABELS: Ambroisie
WORKS: Roland
PERFORMER: Nicolas Testé, Anna-Maria Panzarella, Olivier Dumait, Monique Zanetti; Lausanne Opera Chorus, Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
Roland was the most famous of Charlemagne’s paladin warriors. His fearless encounters with the Saracen horde are celebrated in the heroic Chanson de Roland and in Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso. The latter offered rich pickings for 17th- and 18th-century opera librettists and was the source of Quinault’s text for Lully’s penultimate tragédie en musique, which was premiered in Paris early in 1685. The story concerns the thwarted love of Roland for Angélique who in turn loves and is loved by the knight Médor. Librettist and composer treat the hero’s irresolution between love and duty with compassion and psychological insight. The two concluding acts in particular offer striking contrasts between conviviality and despair with a richly rewarding sequence of dances, affecting recitative, a fine frenzied monologue for the hero and a ravishing little sleep scene. Among other delights are a lively Prologue, a well-sustained and impassioned scene for the two lovers and a supple Chaconne with chorus which brings the act to a close. Christophe Rousset has picked a fine ensemble of soloists, whose fluency in the art of French declamation is matched by the polished and idiomatic playing of Les Talens Lyriques. The 16-voice Lausanne Opera Chorus makes a strong contribution and all moves swiftly and seamlessly under Rousset’s stylish and enthusiastic direction. A fine achievement. Nicholas Anderson