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GRAMOPHONE (02/2015)
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Musiques à la Chabotterie 605003  

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Reviewer: Richard Lawrence


If the name JeanFéry Rebel (16661747) rings any bells, it is probably as the composer of a chamber work, Les élémens. But he also wrote Ulysse, a Lullian tragédie en musique performed at the Paris Opéra in January 1703 and apparently never revived. Hugo Reyne has done a sterling job in marrying the contemporary published score with a set of parts held by the library in Uppsala. There are cuts, both vocal and instrumental; but what remains is a useful addition, very well performed, to the handful of recordings of French operas composed between Lully’s Acis et Galatée (1686) and Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie (1733).


After the obligatory Prologue in praise of Louis XIV, which surprisingly features Orpheus, the action begins in the garden of Ulysses’s palace on Ithaca. Penelope is awaiting her husband’s belated return from Troy. Urilas laments her failure to respond to his approaches; Circe, the sorceress, vows to bewitch Penelope into infidelity, thereby clearing the field for her own designs on Ulysses. After various vicissitudes, and interventions by the gods, husband and wife are reunited and Circe is defeated.


The drama is not thrilling, frankly. Urilas is written out as an individual in Act 2 and Ulysses doesn’t enter till Act 3, so there’s no confrontation between husband and would-be lover. The ending is downbeat: neither a love duet nor a chorus of triumph but a solo for Circe as she abandons love for ever. But many excellent numbers stand out: an air for Circe accompanied only by flutes, followed by a Rondeau of gentle melancholy; a duet for Circe and Ulysses with a chromatic descending bass reminding us that all is not well; a solemn chorus for Ulysses’s companions.


The cast, led by Bertrand Chuberre and Guillemette Laurens, tuck into their roles with relish, and Hugo Reyne has a winning way with the dance rhythms. The libretto provided is only in French, which, given the quality of the translated synopsis – ‘Urilas bursts into pains’, for example – is probably just as well.


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