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GRAMOPHONE (05/2021)
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Reviewer: Richard Lawrence

Les Indes galantes – ‘The amorous Indies’ – was first staged at the Paris Opéra in 1735. Whether called an opera-ballet or a ballet héroïque – take your pick – it is quite different from its predecessor, the tragedy Hippolyte et Aricie. Rameau revised it several times: at its fullest extent it consisted of a prologue and four entrées or acts. This recording, like György Vashegyi’s, is said to be of the 1761 version, the last to be performed in Rameau’s lifetime; as with the Vashegyi, this turns out to be not quite the case. Rameau dropped the part of Amour from the Prologue in 1735: here, Cupid gets a full innings – and he is very well sung by Julie Roset, weaving her air ‘Ranimez les flambeaux’ in counterpoint with the violins. The short air for Bellone, ‘C’est la gloire’, is missing, despite the words being printed in the booklet. There are other discrepancies, including the reordering of some of the numbers.

There are, correctly, three out of the four entrées, plus the beautiful quartet ‘Tendre amour’ from ‘Les fleurs’ making a surprise appearance. The librettist, Louis Fuzelier, sets the entrées in different exotic places, his theme being the relationship of the Europe of the Enlightenment to the supposedly barbaric ‘Indies’. Huascar, in ‘Les Incas du Pérou’, doesn’t get the girl, but he does rail against the Spaniards’ greed for Peruvian gold; in ‘Le turc généreux’ Osman, like the Pasha in Die Entführung, allows his European captives to go free; and in ‘Les sauvages’, set in North America, Zima chooses the warrior Adario over her suitors from France and Spain.

As so often, Rameau’s set pieces are things of wonder. ‘Les Incas’ ends with an earthquake and a volcanic eruption, and ‘Le turc’ includes a storm at sea: both are vividly played and sung by La Chapelle Harmonique under their young founder-conductor Valentin Tournet. The balance of the recording, which was made in sessions seven months apart, is not ideal: sometimes the voices are too forward, and the harpsichord is not forward enough.

The only soloist to appear in all three entrées is Mathias Vidal. He is fully the equal of Reinoud Van Mechelen, his counterpart on the Vashegyi recording, especially in the tenderness of Valère’s ‘Sur ces bords’ and the vigour of Don Carlos’s ‘Princesse, quelle erreur’. His partner in both ‘Le turc’ and ‘Les Incas’ is Emmanuelle de Negri: joyous in Émilie’s ‘Régnez, Amour’, sensuous in ‘Viens, Hymen’, where Phani is accompanied only by the violins and a solo flute. Alexandre Duhamel as Huascar invokes the Sun with appropriate solemnity and dies powerfully under the rocks of the volcano, though the part seems a little high for him. Guillaume Andrieux doesn’t have much to do as Osman; he and Ana Quintans are gently rapturous in ‘Hymen, viens nous unir’, the duet for Adario and Zima near the end of ‘Les sauvages’. Edwin CrossleyMercer is a forceful Don Alvar, one of Zima’s suitors. The ‘Dance of the Great Pipe of Peace’ goes with a swing; if you have seen it, you will not be able to keep out of your mind’s eye the terrific choreography by Blanca Li on the DVD of the production by Les Arts Florissants from the Opéra Garnier (Opus Arte, 4/06).

Apart from a couple of garbled sentences, the translation of the libretto by Christopher Bayton is a good one; he cannot have been responsible for a silly error in the introductory article. (The original French is correct.) With the extra music for Amour in the Prologue, this is a welcome complement to the Budapest recording (with mostly French soloists) conducted by György Vashegyi.


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