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GRAMOPHONE (12/2022)
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Reviewer :
Richard Lawrence


Like Rameau, Leclair had a well-established reputation in other spheres before he ventured into opera. Known as ‘the French Corelli’, he was a virtuoso violinist who had published several volumes of sonatas and concertos by the time Scylla et Glaucus was staged at the Paris Opéra in October 1746. But whereas Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie was the first of a string of masterpieces, Scylla was the only opera that Leclair composed. It was given 18 performances and never revived. Leclair lived for another 18 years, before being murdered at home (three suspects; no prosecution): Scylla is such a fine piece that it’s a pity he didn’t follow it up.

The Prologue harks back to the days of Lully, with Venus and Cupid (L’Amour) praising – but not naming – Louis XV and the Dauphin. The story, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, is a love triangle. Glaucus asks the sorceress Circe to help him in his so far unsuccessful wooing of Scylla. Circe falls for Glaucus and tries to seduce him; Scylla finally admits her love. The furious Circe poisons Scylla, transforms her into a rock and flies off, the last words of the opera being ‘May Charybdis and Scylla be the terror of the seas’.

Three of the five acts include divertissements, where the choruses and dances are particularly delightful. Act 4 contains a powerful scene where Circe summons infernal deities; they in turn call up Hecate (sung by a man), who provides the requisite poison. Time and again it is the orchestration that catches the ear. Glaucus’s plea for Circe’s assistance, ‘Vous pouvez d’un seul mot’, is punctuated by vigorous phrases on the violins. Scylla’s first words, ‘Non, je ne cesserai jamais’, have an airiness due to the absence of bass instruments; an effect that Leclair obtains twice more when Circe is cosying up to Glaucus. A flute tickles the ear in the Prologue’s ‘Air gracieux’ (an instrumental piece); Scylla’s ‘L’Amour n’offre qu’un bien trompeur’ is accompanied by the violins alone. Oboes, bassoon and trumpets all have their chance.

Il Giardino d’Amore are a Polish outfit, who sing and play to the manner born, and the recording was made in Warsaw. The cast is all French-speaking. Mathias Vidal makes an ardent Glaucus, thrilling in the roulades of ‘Chantez, chantez l’Amour’ towards the end. In ‘Serments trompeurs’, where Scylla thinks she has lost Glaucus to Circe, Chiara Skerath matches the intensity of the accompaniment. Despite some unconvincing cackling, Florie Valiquette sounds appropriately formidable when summoning the demons from hell. Thanks to Stefan Plewniak’s dynamic conducting, all three find the drama in the recitatives, some of which are quite extensive.

The recent rival version, actually recorded in the Opéra Royal at the Château de Versailles, starred Emo?ke Baráth and Anders J Dahlin. In one respect I would call it superior: ‘Viens Amour, quitte Cythère’ for a Sicilian woman (Virginie Pochon) and chorus, with a flowing violin accompaniment, is ravishing. Plewniak, taking it much faster, misses the charm. Otherwise, honours are even.



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