Judith van Wanroij, Cyrille Dubois, Julien Dran, Jean-sébastien Bou;
Les Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles; Les Talens Lyriques/christophe Rousset
Aparté AP 185 85:43 mins (2 discs) Though widely characterised as Mozart’s inferior, Antonio Salieri had the gifts and courage to radically re-think French tragic opera. Les Horaces is the second such work of Salieri’s Christophe Rousset has brought to the concert stage, and his conducting balances the score’s rawness against the seamlessness – solos into ensembles, sinfonias into frantic choruses – with which Salieri defied French conventions.
The instrumental and choral numbers could be from 50 years later: an epic overture explodes the boundaries of the form; stirring fanfares and choruses call for revolution; strings and woodwinds cut and thrust like the protagonists on stage. Rousset’s fierce energy and musical intelligence unleashes the fire, colours and grandeur of Salieri’s drama. But the dearth of lyricism in this opera stymies solo singers and the creation of character. In the action, the heroine Camille must look on helplessly as her brother and her betrothed, citizens of opposing city-states, are chosen for a mortal fight that will decide who should govern. The gods decree it, the father/ruler insists on it, and Camille’s brother ends up slaying her lover. Judith van Wanroij shines as Camille, urgent in her recitative and searing in her calls to resistance. But pat phrases and busy exchanges box her in vocally. This is true for the other soloists as well. What Salieri dramatised was not individual agency but a collective, and his musical means for doing so can pall after the first hour of this ninetyminute work. Berta Joncus PERFORMANCE