Rameau: Critique of Zoroaster – listen to the version that stirred up critics in 1749 | Classical music

Rof ameau tragedy in music was premiered at the Paris Opera in 1749, but it is usually heard today in the radical revision the composer made there for a revival seven years later. The two previous CD recordings of Zoroaster, conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken and William Christie, used this 1756 score, but Alexis Kossenko opted for the original, in which three of the five acts are entirely different from the later version.

The artwork for Zoroaster 1749 by Kossenko. Photography: Alpha

Rameau’s reasons for revising his opera so radically were clear enough. The 1749 creation had been poorly received, condemned by critics and Parisian artistic circles, who declared it, like the composer himself: “long, dry, black and hard » (long, dry, dark and difficult). For an audience expecting stage works to be based on familiar classical or medieval sources, the subject of Zoroaster would also have been disconcerting, as it was a libretto based on Persian mythology, set in what is today Afghanistan, and larded with Masonic ideas. and images, most of which disappeared during the review.

Apart from the role of Zoroaster, the priest responsible for delivering the people of Bactria from the domination of the sorcerer Abramane, the individual characterizations are almost caricatural. It is the great musical pieces, especially the occult rites which take up most of the fourth act in a dazzling sequence of chorus and dance, which are the most compelling parts of the score and provide most of the moments when the performance of Kossenko really catches fire. . There are also outstanding individual performances: Reinoud van Mechelen, charismatic enough in the title role; Tassis Christoyannis, as the pantomime villain Abramane; Jodie Devos in sweet and lyrical Amelite; and Véronique Gens as the intriguing Érinice. Nevertheless, it is mainly a set intended for specialists in French Baroque.

The other choice of the week

These are their outstanding recordings of Monteverdi which made the international reputation of Rinaldo Alessandrini and his group of singers and instrumentalists, italian concerto. While they have continued to explore other areas of the Baroque repertoire, they have regularly returned to the composer with whom they are indelibly associated and have now filled a gap in their study of Monteverdi’s madrigals for Naive with a new recording from Book Seven. . Alessandrini has deviated from the published order of the 29 compositions by grouping them by poet, but as before the performances are immaculate, wonderfully sensitive to every nuance and inflection of the texts – even so, compared to some of the earthier recordings and the most robust of the madrigals that succeeded the Concerto Italiano, they sometimes seem a bit too neat.

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