Rameau: Les fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rameau
LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Les fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour
PERFORMER: Chantal Santon-Jeffery, Carolyn Sampson, Blandine Staskiewicz, Jennifer Borghi, Mathias Vidal, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Tassis Christoyannis, Alain Buet; Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 921629

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At first glance, Rameau’s Les fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour seems to be all froth. Originally intended as part of the celebrations for a royal wedding in 1747, celebrating the marriages of three Egyptian Gods, it proved a popular hit and went on to be performed in Paris for nearly 30 years. Much of its success was down to spectacular scenic effects, notably the flooding of the Nile in the second of the three dramas which, along with a prologue, make up this imaginative entertainment. The music, with Rameau very much in his prime, matches the spectacle and drama. Dance is a big part of the storytelling and each of these mini operas has a strongly operatic sense of climax. There is also much imaginative use of the chorus alongside the soloists, in particular in the second of the dramas.

While Hervé Niquet’s musical direction is generally and excellently consistent, this performance is by no means perfect. The overture begins in a rather lacklustre manner, but the orchestra soon warms to the task. The prologue crystalises around the exchanges between L’Amour, sung with intensity and virtuosity by Carolyn Sampson (also an excellent Memphis later in the opera) and Blandine Staskiewicz’s commanding L’Hymen. Reinoud Van Mechelen is a ringing Osiris and Tassis Christoyannis is moving as Canope. Other solo parts, while dramatically engaged, could have been more gracefully sung and occasionally the choral intonation is less than perfect. But the recorded sound is good and this rarity certainly repays attention.

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Jan Smaczny