Ballet Royal de la Naissance de Vénus; plus extracts from ballets LWV 21, 43, 45 & 52
Deborah Cachet, Bénédicte Tauran, Ambroisine Bré; Chœur de Chambre de Namur; Les Talens Lyriques/Christoph Rousset
Aparté AP255 71:43 mins
Before Lully invented French opera, ‘ballet royal’ was the court spectacle. Mixing Italian monody with French dances and choruses, royal ballets were designed for courtiers to admire stage stars and dance alongside them. Lully was a master of the form, as Christophe Rousset brilliantly illuminates in this world-premiere recording.
Ballet de la Naissance de Vénus was a production beyond lavish, with 106 different roles, 96 performers and stage machines innumerable. A work of many hands (librettist, choreographer, mechanic), it featured not just Lully’s music but also that of his father-in-law Michel Lambert, also represented in this recording. As later in French opera, an ‘entrée’, or scene, typically consisted of vocal solo, dances and a concluding chorus; we are given the most gorgeous and dramatic of these.
Rousset’s directorship, while suitably regal, is metrically fluid and pushes soloists and choir to rhetorical and dramatic extremes. Among the solo singers, soprano Deborah Cachet stands out for her fire, intensity and sumptuous timbres. In dance movements – the bulk of the programme’s music – Rousset distils each dance’s character, from the delicate coquetry of the menuet to the tragic tread of the chaconne.
Rousset ends his programme with slapstick. Lully loved comedies and often composed for them, including the 1663 mock-ballet Les Noces de village. For this, Lully himself sang Barbacola, a schoolmaster turned doctor whose students, in chorus, echo his disdain for learning.