Achante et Céphise
Sabine Devieilhe, Cyrille Dubois, David Witczak; Les Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles; Les Ambassadeurs – La Grande Écurie/Alexis Kossenko
Erato 9029669394 112:36 mins (2 discs)
A commercial recording of Acante et Céphise is long overdue. There’s just two issues. First, the spelling ‘Achante’, rather than the customary ‘Acante’, derives from the proofs of the engraved score, later corrected by the composer – a seemingly odd preference, therefore, inasmuch as the name is sung with a hard ‘c’. Secondly, the booklet claims this recording brings to an end the opera’s 270 year absence. Nonsense! In 1983, celebrating the 300th anniversary of Rameau’s birth, the present writer produced the opera for BBC Radio 3, with the English Concert directed by Trevor Pinnock, and with French singers in the eponymous lovers’ roles. More recently, University College London Music Society memorably staged the piece under the baton of Charles Peebles.
The three-act pastorale héroïque was commissioned in 1751 to celebrate the birth of the Duke of Burgundy. Jean-François Marmontel’s slight libretto involving a good fairy, a wicked genie and a magic castle nevertheless inspired Rameau to write vigorous and colourful music, as well as providing for the first time in French opera independent parts for clarinets. The orchestral chiaroscuro is rewarding, nowhere more so than in the three-sectional overture in which the nation’s felicitations are variously expressed by fireworks with notated cannon-fire and a fanfare.
All this festivity and much more is reflected in Alexis Kossenko’s larger than life performance. Sabine Devieilhe and Cyrille Dubois enliven the title roles with fervent exchanges and evenly balanced dialogue; and David Witczak is splendidly menacing as the evil genie, Oroès. In short, this is an invigorating and joyous revival of a musically rich opera.