LULLY: Atys (complete opera), Blu-ray (2011)

by | Nov 30, 2011 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

JEAN-BAPTISTE LULLY: Atys (complete opera), Blu-ray (2011)
Orchestra & chorus of Les Arts Florissants/ William Christie (conductor)/Jean-Marie Villégier (director)/ Béatrice Massin (choreographer)
Cast = Atys: Bernard Richter/Cybèle: Stéphanie d’Oustrac/Sangaride: Emmanuelle de Negri/ Célénus: Nicolas Rivenq/Idas: Marc Mouillon/ Doris: Sophie Daneman/Mélisse: Jaël Azzaretti/ Dieu de Sommeil: Paul Agnew
Studio: Fra Musica FRA 506 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) [2 discs]
Video: 16:9 Color 1080i HD
Audio: French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: French, English, German, Spanish, Italian
Extras: “La metamorphose d’Atys”, “Les grands appartements”, “L’Opera du Roi”, “Machines d’opéra”, “Le réveil d’Atys” production and historical documentaries with Patrice Cauchetier, William Christie, Jérôme de la Gorce, Martin Kahane, Béatrice Massin, Maryvonne de Saint-Pulgent, Agnés Terrier and Jean-Marie Villégier
Length: 195 minutes;  100 min. for extras
Rating: ****
Atys, premiered at the Court of Louis XIV, is said to be the “l’opera du Roi”, clearly the Sun King’s favorite work and performed many times on his command since its premiere. This performance by the combined forces of Les Arts Florissants, maestro William Christie and producer Jean-Marie Villégier is nearly flawless. For Baroque opera, there is a danger that such works will be hard to follow, with too many characters in small roles and a libretto that turns into an evening of music theater that consists largely of many set pieces of varying interest level. Unfortunately there are an abundance of lesser works that meet this description. While Jean-Philippe Rameau largely succeeded in creating works that a commoner might find enjoyable, Lully knew his target audience was the monarchy and that the story needed to be one of a classic, if not lofty, nature.
Lully succeeded, himself, in creating the earliest forms of “grand opera,” and without letting his music be a pastiche. Atys, in fact, was one of his best and most successful works, not bereft of genuine emotion and shock; being the first French tragedy in which the protagonist has an onstage death scene. Essentially, this is an opera about a young man, Atys, who falls in love with a nymph, Sangaride, daughter of the river god. Sangaride is, however, betrothed to Célénus, a son of Neptune. Complicating matters further is the goddess Cybèle, who has her eye on Atys, for herself. This mythology takes place in a world of gods of rivers and streams, of the woodlands, and the corybantes, a sort of band of armed guardians who worshipped Cybèle, as a presence in the background cast.
This production is a revival of a 1987 production first realized in Paris and Florence and brought to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Villegier’s vision sets the entire drama in a single room of Versailles. There is only one scene to my recollection where the outside world can be glimpsed through an open door. The various deities have their names and powers but are dressed as courtiers. As the story of dual unrequited love progresses, Atys ends up killing Sangaride; then himself. Atys is, however, turned by Cybèle into an evergreen that will never die (here represented solely by evergreen sprigs) “He” is ceremonially carried out in a form of funeral procession by a chorus of woodland and water divinities extolling the beauty, the powers and the dangers of the powers of love.
The music is a simple dignified Lully at his best. There is not a lot of ornamented flourish and a sense of “dictated” emotion. The drama is based, rather, upon recitatives, dances and arias that imply the conditions that lead to the emotion. William Christie is a master of this repertoire and the performances are wonderful. An orchestra consisting of viols, lutes, period winds and the like plays crisply and with a clear sense of the necessary style. The vocal roles are equally impressive, especially that of Bernard Richter in the title role and Stéphanie d’Oustrac as Cybèle. The sound and video quality on this Fra Musica blu-ray is vivid and adds to the experience tremendously. This is also quite your money’s worth. Atys, itself, is more than three hours in duration and there is a second disc with nearly two hours of very interesting extras about this production and opera at the time of Louis XIV.  This is another in a very rewarding series of early musique productions on this label and ought to please anyone interested in the Baroque or anyone who wants a very different and pleasant operatic experience.
—Daniel Coombs

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