CHARPENTIER: AndromËde; Ballet de Polyeucte

It presents several dance entries with varied titles that suggest the martyr’s internal conflict (´Sentiments genereux et laschesª (´Generous and cowardly feelingsª).

Charpentier’s AndromËde was also a revival; written by Corneille in 1650, this tragedy was performed again in April 1682, with new music composed by Charpentier to replace the original score of Charles Dassoucy. This revival, which was enormously expensive (above all for the costume and scenery ), doubtless aimed at restoring the glory of the ComÈdie FranÁaise, whose productions had been eclipsed by the new operas (tragÈdies lyriques) of Lully. In fact at the same time, Lully gave the first performances of his PersÈe — an opera composed on a libretto by Quinault which deals with the same myth. As Catherine Cessac explains in her book (Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Paris, 1988; rev. 2004; Engl. Translation 1995), Charpentier’s music was conceived in the same spirit as the decor and stage machines, which were the main attraction of the spectacle.

The recording by the New Chamber Opera and the Band of Instrument, directed by Gary Cooper, is uneven. In AndromËde’s overture the musicians seem sometimes hesitant, which provokes a certain instability in rhythm as well as in dynamics; but the performance quickly picks up and gains in homogeneity when we hear the four singers (Rachel Elliott, soprano; James Gilchrist, tenor; Thomas Guthrie, baritone; Giles Underwood, bass) who are always very expressive. In this respect, the last two choruses of AndromËde are quite successful.

The Ballet de Polieucte, opens with an overture originally composed by Charpentier for the revival, in July 1679, of Le DÈpit amoureux, a play written by MoliËre in 1656. Here the instrumentalists exhibit a certain mastery of the style of the work, and manage to underline the contrasts between the dance entries (particularly in the striking ´Marche de Triompheª, or gay ´La joye seulleª).

Despite a few imperfections, we should be grateful that this recording presents us with two unknown works by Charpentier. But a recording cannot in any sense replace a stage representation and we hope that it may open the way for new performances (on stage). It is a pity that that these two musical plays have not yet aroused the interest and curiosity of stage directors, actors and musicians, particularly in this fourth centenary of the birth of Pierre Corneille (1606-1684). While in the ComÈdie FranÁaise in Paris Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, L’Amour mÈdecin and the Sicilien, with music by Lully, have enjoyed considerable, well merited, success for many years now, Corneille remains very neglected. But John Powell, Professor at the University of Tulsa (USA), eminent specialist of the music and theater in 17th century, invites us to appreciate his reconstruction of AndromËde on the following web site:

Marie-Alexis Colin
UniversitÈ de MontrÈal

image_description=Marc-Antoine Charpentier: AndromËde ; Le ballet de Polieucte
product_title=Marc-Antoine Charpentier: AndromËde ; Le ballet de Polieucte
product_by=New Chamber Opera, The Band of Instruments, dir. Gary Cooper
product_id=Gaudeamus CDGAU303 [CD]