Ève-Maud Hubeaux, Bénédicte Tauran, Ambroisine Bré, Cyril Auvity, Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Philippe Estèphe, Fabien Hyon, Aimery Lefèvre, Julie Calèete, Julie Vercauteren; Chœur de Chambre de Namur; Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
Aparté AP216 154:51 mins (2 discs)
Christophe Rousset has restored to us Lully’s Isis, whose only other complete recording is no longer distributed. Isis is classic Lully: when the heroine Io laments her tortures, or when Juno and Jupiter clash, or the chorus thrusts itself forward, Lully binds action to speech with staggering musical ingenuity. Drawing on his all-French cast, Rousset reanimates a wordbook that contemporaries criticised for its longeurs, as well as for dramatising King Louis XIV’s domestic rows.
The action follows Io (the king’s mistress), whose beauty causes Jupiter (Louis XIV) to quit his wife Juno (Queen Maria Theresa) for a dalliance. As a result, Io loses her shepherd-lover and Juno claims Io for her own court; after Jupiter’s minions try and fail to rescue Io, Juno has her tortured. Confined to alternating realms of extreme cold and extreme heat, Io pleads for death; only Jupiter’s vow to return to Juno brings the release of Io, transformed into the goddess Isis.
Padding out this story are divertissements that, while superb as spectacle, undercut the opera’s momentum. Rousset meets this challenge by pushing performers to their dramatic limits. Asked to focus on words, the soloists sound deliberately ugly at times, which highlights their flawless execution elsewhere. Standout cast members are Ève-Maud Hubeaux, whose grace, sincerity and vocal radiance make Io wholly credible, and Bénédicte Tauran, whose persistent re-setting of pulse broadcasts Juno’s impetuous nature. Vivifying Lully’s characterisations, chorus and band shape-shift into shepherds, Furies and Sylvans on demand. Truly an Olympian event.