Friday, September 23, 2011

Baroque Brilliance from Les Arts Florissants

Atys and chorus
How often do you step out into the night air after nearly five hours of music and wish that you could go back into the hall and listen for five hours more? If you were one of the fortunate few who had tickets for the Les Arts Florissants production of Jean Baptiste Lully’s opera Atys at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) you’ll know what I’m talking about.

BAM has been a happy New York home for this outstanding French ensemble and their genius director, William Christie. Over the past few years they’ve brought Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, Dido and Aeneas, and Charpentier’s Actéon to this great concert venue. Some years ago their performance of Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno di Ulisse, in Pierre Audi’s stunning staging, was the breathtaking centerpiece of BAM’s Monteverdi opera cycle. When Les Arts Florissants come to town, I’m there.

Cybele and Atys
The Atys production first came to New York in the late 1980s. At that time the early music movement had already made inroads, but a production of such grandeur and performed so brilliantly was a revelation. The current staging, a revival of the first production by Jean-Marie Villégier, is still a dazzler. Period costumes, make-up and wigs evoke the court of Louis XIV, as does the choreography of Francine Lancelot and Béatrice Massin.

The elegance of baroque dance
Oh yes, there are the singers. I think the miracle of Les Arts Florissants performances is the consistent excellence of the singers. Ed Lyon (Atys), Emmanuelle de Negri (Sangaride) and Anna Reinhold (Cybèle) were all outstanding. Christie manages to elicit something very special from singers and it’s evident in every note sung, from the principals to the smallest roles. Even the chorus can trill as one. Looking at the cast list I see that almost a third of the singers were members of Le Jardin des Voix, Les Arts Florissants’ vocal training program. Clearly, the master is teaching them well.

Atys weeps over the dead Sangaride
If you didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy Atys in person and can’t wait for the October DVD release of the production, here’s a half dozen Les Arts Florissants recordings that showcase this amazing ensemble.  

The ensemble excels in sacred music as well as secular in this specially priced collection of motets by Campra and Couperin.

Charpentier's delicious airs are beautifully sung by Les Arts Florissants.

Les Arts Florissants perform scenes from the great Lully operas.

Anne Sofie von Otter is joined by Les Arts Florissants in a collection of arias from great French baroque operas.

Rameau's epic Les Indes Galantes gets the all-star treatment in this early Les Arts Florissants recording.

This great collection presents the best of Les Arts Florissants.

[all photos from the Atys production are by Stephanie Berger, courtesy of the Brooklyn Academy of Music]

--Craig Zeichner

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