ALBUM TITLE: Royer: Pyrrhus
PERFORMER: Guillemette Laurens, Emmanuelle de Negri, Jeffrey Thompson, Alain Buet; Les Enfants d’Apollon/Michael Greenberg
CATALOGUE NO: 953
Royer was a key figure in French music in the first half of the 18th century, renowned chiefly as an organist and harpsichordist. He was also ‘master of music’ at the Paris Opera where he participated in the premiere of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie as well as staging his own full-scale opera, Pyrrhus. In spite of some outstanding singers, Pyrrhus was a failure with the public: the general feeling was that while the music was of considerable beauty, the libretto was poor with one contemporary describing it as ‘harsh’ and ‘cold’.
Royer’s music is certainly elegant and pleasingly melodic. Cast firmly in the manner of Lully, it benefits from a broader instrumental palette and at times, notably the prelude to the third act, some ear-catching counterpoint. In fact, the third act, set in the underworld, contains some of the opera’s most arresting music. Particularly impressive are the dramatically volatile exchanges between Pyrrhus, sung with commanding tone by Alain Buet, Polyxène and Eriphile, characterised with convincing dramatic involvement by Emmanuelle de Negri and Guillemette Laurens respectively. The singers are also well supported by some fine wind playing. In general, the orchestral performance is expert and suitably expressive; the drama also moves at a convincing pace, notably in the affecting final pages. Unfortunately, much that is excellent is compromised by some rather raw choral and vocal singing in the Prologue. Furthermore, one can’t help feeling that the whole disc would benefit from a slightly more forward recorded sound.