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 Recording of the Week  Lully’s Bellérophon

First performed in 1679, Bellérophon was among the most popular of Lully’s operas during his lifetime. It initially ran for nine months at the Palais Royal and remained in the repertoire for about a hundred years with performances all over Europe, but as French Baroque operas then fell out of fashion it quickly disappeared into oblivion. Since the 1980s there has been a revival in interest in the genre and until recently Bellérophon was the only remaining tragic opera by Lully not be performed in modern times. So when conductor and musicologist Christophe Rousset discovered some missing parts in an antique shop in Paris the modern premiere was eagerly awaited. That took place in December 2010 at the Royal Opera of Versailles under Rousset and his group Les Talens Lyriques, and in record time it has now made it onto CD.

Jean-Baptiste Lully
Jean-Baptiste Lully

Lully is generally considered to be the founder of French opera. He didn’t like the Italian model which divided recitatives and arias into separate numbers and so combined the two. This generally led to increased drama and the stories developing a bit quicker. That is certainly the case with Bellérophon which is terrifically exciting.

Lully spent most of his working life at the court of Louis XIV of France and a number of his works took on a political influence, or were at least partly designed to help endear the composer to the King. Based on a mythical story of a fearless hero whose arrogance is punished by the gods, the libretto is here altered to show a hero who practises restraint and moderation to the foes he vanquishes – a reference to Louis XIV’s recent victories over the Dutch, the Spanish and the Holy Roman Emperor.

The performance is wonderful, and although I didn’t really recognise any of the singers, there are some outstanding performances here, none less so than that of counter-tenor Cyril Auvity who sings the title role with real commitment and passion. Ingrid Perruche’s strong Stenobée is the pick of the female voices but in fairness they all sing well. Christophe Rousset conducts Les Talens Lyriques with excitement and vigour. The double-dotted rhythms give a splendour and elegance which characterises both this music and this performance, while the Namur Chamber Choir make a telling contribution with some spectacular singing of their very striking music.

The two discs are beautifully presented in a hard-back book which includes a short essay on the work as well as a complete libretto. Really enjoyable and highly recommended.

Lully: Bellérophon

Cyril Auvity (Bellérophon), Céline Scheen (Philonoé), Ingrid Perruche (Sténobeé), Jennifer Borghi (Argie/Pallas), Evgeniy Alexiev (Pan/Jobate-Le Roy), Jean Teitgen (Apollon/Amisodar) & Robert Getchell (Bacchis/La Pythie) Chamber Choir of Namur & Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset

Available Formats: MP3, CD Quality FLAC