Arias by Charpentier, Collasse, Desmarets and Lully
Véronique Gens (soprano); Ensemble Les Surprises; Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles/Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Alpha Classics ALPHA 747 57:12 mins
Lully’s opera house was ruled by its female principal. She took the rôles de baguette, ‘baguette’ referring to props – the queen’s sceptre, the sorceress’s magic wand – she wielded onstage. For artists capable of such parts, Lully and his peers composed their most intense music; in this recording, Véronique Gens reanimates these singers’ legacy.
The baguette scenes programmed here by director Noël Bestion de Camboulas unleash Gens’s ferocious talents, returning her to the music with which she first dazzled audiences. To staple scenes by Lully, de Camboulas adds unfamiliar ones, like those by Pascal Collasse and Henry Desmarets, recorded here for the first time. Interludes and choruses alternate with Gens’s solos, throwing into relief the often violent characters – the enraged queen, the bitter lover and the inescapable enchantress – that she brings to life.
Words are Gens’s secret weapon. She brings out their meanings and sonic qualities like no other singer: spiked rhythms register her vitriol, towering anger splits open her vowels on top notes and despair oozes from her whispered sibilants. Her instrument is that of a classic tragedienne, with a dark bottom register, sinewy middle range and scorching top notes. She might have made the lullaby ‘Voici le favorable temps’ (from Lully’s Le Triomphe de L’Amour) a bit sweeter, yet still it’s ravishing.
The band and chorus participate in each scene’s action, and their execution is also commanding. Ensemble Les Surprise’s airy dances and storm overtures paint the backdrop, while the chorus communicates the suffering Gens’s characters inflict on her subjects. For opulence and originality, this recording sets a new benchmark in Gens’s discography.