Lully’s Persée conducted by Hervé Niquet

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Persée
PERFORMER: Mathias Vidal, Hélène Guilmette, Katherine Watson, Tassis Christoyannis, Jean Teitgen, Chantal Santon-Jeffery, Marie Lenormand, Cyrille Dubois, Marie Kalinine, Thomas Dolié, Zachary Wilder; Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet

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Lully’s Persée was premiered at the Paris Opera in 1682. This version is a radical refit celebrating the marriage of the future Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in 1770, coinciding with the long-awaited opening of the Royal Opera at Versailles. Three composers and a librettist were involved in a reworking that reduced the original prologue and five acts to four. Such radical revisions were commonplace in the 18th century, accepted as a way of keeping venerable scores current. In the case of Persée the alterations give a more central role to the couple Perseus and Andromeda, clearly an allegory of Louis and Marie-Antoinette.

Musically the changes are far-reaching, with half of Lully’s score replaced with extensive, often Italian-influenced orchestral music played by a large band including clarinets and horns. The results are attractive, notably the overture by Dauvergne, but hardly spectacular. The final act, comprising Lully’s fourth and fifth acts extensively recomposed, offers the most variety with some Italianate virtuosity for Venus, delivered with panache by Chantal Santon-Jeffery. However, as a listening experience without the spectacular stage effects of the original, the result is often rather bland.

Hervé Niquet’s musical direction is admirably fluent. The orchestral playing and choral singing are magnificent throughout in a suitably resonant recording. Unfortunately the same excellent uniformity is not true of the soloists. Katherine Watson as Mérope stands out among the women and Tassis Christoyannis’s Phinée is always compelling. While ensemble is generally impressive, more consistent solo singing would have been welcome.

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Jan Smaczny