This production resuscitates Gounod s original composition, largely forgotten. A triumph for Minkowski, conducting at the Opera national de Paris, it attracted more than 1 million viewers when broadcast on TV! No competition on DVD or Bluray At last, Mireille one of the most original works of the 19th century has found its rightful place at the Palais Garnier. In 1854, a young Provençal poet, Fredéric Mistral, founded a literary association with a few other people, the aim of which was to uphold and illustrate its language and culture. They called this school Félibrige, a word of mysterious origin - a blend of joy, books and freedom. In 1859, he took things one step further and gave Félibrige its battle flag and masterpiece, Miréio, a vast epic love poem. As it happened, Gounod, whose Faust was created that year, read Mireille shortly after publication and was full of enthusiasm and went to Saint-Rémy de Provence to seek out this passionate music. Due to its singularity and density, the work has had a difficult career and was revised and altered several times. In 1939, Guy Ferrant and Henri Busser, disciples of Gounod, restored the original and Mireille was finally restored from the fine midsummer's morning and its dancing to the gripping scene in the desert-like Crau region.
Phaeton was first produced not at the Palais-Royal Theatre in Paris but modestly at Versailles in January 1683. In the spring of that year it transferred to the Palais-Royal and was well enough thought of to enjoy revivals at regular intervals into the early 1740s. Indeed, rather as Atys became known as the ''King's opera'' and Isis as the musicians', Phaeton acquired its sobriquet, ''the opera of the people''. Among the many attractive airs ''Helas! Une chaine si belle'' (Act 5) was apparently a favourite duet of Parisian audiences, while ''Que mon sort serait doux'' (Act 2), another duet, was highly rated by Lully himself. In 1688 Phaeton was chosen to inaugurate the new Royal Academy of Music at Lyon where, as Jerome de la Gorce remarks in his excellent introduction, it was so successful ''that people came to see it from forty leagues around''. The present recording is a co-production between Erato and Radio France, set up to mark the occasion of the opening of the new Opera House at Lyon.
The story of rival factions, divine interventions, and love triumphing over obstacles political and personal clearly inspired some of Rameau's most adventurous musical evocations (just one example might be the fascinating harmonic language he uses to depict a magician commanding an eclipse). It's this spirit of daring experiment that Rameau expert Marc Minkowski relishes throughout this magnificent, high-octane, deftly tailored account. He fires the authentic-instrument group Les Musiciens du Louvre into his customary whiplash speeds, which are just perfect for the air of martial excitement that prevails, while the many dance-centered numbers have a muscular grace. The result in general is some of his best work to date on disc, with a special emphasis on the through line of the score. The cast is spectacular–young in demeanor, passionate, and superbly fluent in the idiom. Consider the vocal acting of Véronique Gens as the conflicted heroine Iphise (in love with her father's enemy), with its rich emotional involvement; there's an exciting chemistry between her and the title hero John Mark Ainsley, who gently tapers his vibrato into a beautifully nuanced tenor–now forlorn and outcast, now assertively heroic. Less satisfying is Laurent Naouri's inconsistently projected lower range as the antihero Anténor. The chorus has been beautifully prepared. For this recording, Minkowski uses Rameau's original 1739 version, with some interpolations of especially compelling material from the slimmed-down 1744 revision. (Thomas May)
'Titon et l'Aurore' is an opera in three acts and a prologue by the French composer Jean-Joseph de Mondonville which was first performed at the Académie royale de musique, Paris on 9 January 1753. The authorship of the libretto has been subject to debate; Mondonville's contemporaries ascribed the prologue to Antoine Houdar de la Motte and the three acts of the opera to the Abbé de La Marre. Titon et l'Aurore belongs to the genre known as the pastorale héroïque. The work played an important role in the so-called Querelle des Bouffons, a dispute over the relative merits of the French and Italian operatic traditions which dominated the intellectual life of Paris in the early 1750s. The tremendous success of Mondonville's opera at its premiere was an important victory for the French camp (although their Italian rivals claimed that this was because they had been excluded from their seats by members of the army). Titon was one of Mondonville's most popular works and went on to enjoy several revivals during his lifetime.
Platée was one of the most highly regarded of Rameau's operas during his lifetime. It even pleased critics who had expressed hostility to his musical style during the Querelle des Bouffons (an argument over the relative merits of French and Italian opera). Melchior Grimm called it a "sublime work" and even Rameau's bitter enemy Jean-Jacques Rousseau referred to it as "divine". The reason for this praise may be because these critics saw Platée, a comic opera, paving the way for the lighter form of opera buffa they favoured.
This live performance of Offenbach’s witty, tuneful, swift-moving operetta smacks of the theater: in addition to some audible movement (not bothersome), the singers play off one-another in a marvelous manner, making the whole work gleam. Marc Minkowski’s field of expertise apparently is not only French Baroque–he leads with energy, charm, and an ear for Offenbach’s pointed orchestration (the brass is heard at its shiniest here) and reinstates some music dropped after the premiere (for whatever reason), including another little aria for Paris. The dialogue has been coyly updated and it works…
The subject matter could not be different, but these two releases are extraordinarily special in their respective fields. And since both are vocal works, ergo their pairing in the interest of conserving space. But which to consider first? No disrespect is meant much less implied if we throw a chapeau in the air first for a painstaking critical edition by Jean-Christophe Keck of the libretto by Meilhac and Halévy for Jacques Offenbach’s political satire disguised as a jeu de’esprit, created for Napoleon III’s Grand Exhibition of 1867. R.D. (December 2005)