LULLY: Amadis (complete opera) – soloists/ Choeur de Chambre de Namur/ Les Talens Lyriques/ Christophe Rousset – Aparte (3 CDs)

LULLY: Amadis (complete opera) –  Cyril Auvity (Amadis)/ Judith van Wanrolj (Oriane)/ Ingrid Perruche (Arcabonne)/ Edwin Crossley-Mercer (Arcalaus)/ Benoit Arnould (Florestan)/ Benedicte Tauran (Urgande)/ Hasnaa Bennani (Corisande)/ Pierrick Boisseau (Alquif, Ardan Canile)/ Choeur de Chambre de Namur/ Les Talens Lyriques/ Christophe Rousset – Aparte AP094 (3 CDs), 42:46, 64:58, 56:21 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

The amazingly complex and convoluted plot of Amadis, a story of love and chivalry between Amadis and Oriane, which is opposed by the sorcerer family of Arcabonne and Arcalaus (and involves Florestan and Corisande, more lovers, in a subplot), is one of 14 tragedies en musique, produced between 1673 and 1687, composed for the King’s entertainment. The sentiments are all noble and aristocratic, but the drama itself spreads in a thousand directions and become something sometimes difficult to follow by hearing alone. Of course one can always forget the plot and just listen to the music, but the amount of chatty recitative and lack of stage action—not to mention the dancing—leaves you a little in the dark in terms of interpretative finesse.

The libretto is by Lully’s tried and true Philippe Quinault, and is the 11th in the series and the first to use a non-mythological plot, selected by King Louis XIV who liked reading the Romances about the knightly adventures of Amadis. It must be admitted that Lully is no Rameau; the latter’s ability to grasp dramatic structures and pin them down with unforgettable music is something that Lully lacks. And of course Lully is first and foremost a theater man, and thinks of his productions in terms of complete and holistic entertainment, which make his efforts perhaps more suitable to a DVD or Blu-ray visual issue.

We have long ago assumed that by this time the performers’ experience with French opera from this period is completely mastered and messaged with the greatest of skill, and this is not an unwarranted assumption. These are not roles that require genius superstar singers, but they do need people who can sing the style with panache and understand the period. Christophe Rousset has assembled such a crew, and all the principals are solidly enthroned in the best offering of what is the current understanding of the tradition. This is not mandatory material or even required Lully unless you are a completist of some sort. But there is much to enjoy, and even if its success back then doesn’t guarantee longevity now, it is hardly something to dismiss easily. The sound is clear, vivid, and state of the art for non-surround issues.

—Steven Ritter

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