Search - Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville :: Véronique Gens - Tragédiennes

Véronique Gens - Tragédiennes
Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville
Véronique Gens - Tragédiennes
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (21) - Disc #1

This fascinating recital, filled with rarities from the French Baroque/Classical period, is a series of monologues by tragic heroines: they're enraged, submissive, and everything in between. Gens is an amazingly classy sin...  more »


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This fascinating recital, filled with rarities from the French Baroque/Classical period, is a series of monologues by tragic heroines: they're enraged, submissive, and everything in between. Gens is an amazingly classy singer, incapable of vulgar exclamation, but she still manages to express the full range of emotions required here. Her chest register has gained in volume and thrust and the top of her voice remains free and clear; her classical line, enunciation, and legato are flawless; her mastery of ornamentation is exquisite. Composed about 100 years apart, Lully's and Gluck's Armide bookend the program and use the same text; the latter's version is far more manic, but the character's torment is equally clear. Gens makes the stylistic distinctions. A great find is from Leclair's Scylla et Glaucus, in which Circe sings in front of Mount Etna, demanding assistance for her horrors. Each selection is riveting. This is a veritable primer in the emotions of early French opera. --Robert Levine

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CD Reviews

Excellent singing of music unfamiliar to many of us
Steven A. Peterson | Hershey, PA (Born in Kewanee, IL) | 01/19/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This is a most intriguing CD. I, for one, am not much familiar with operatic work before the later 18th century. On this CD, soprano Veronique Gens does a very nice turn indeed, singing works from Jean-Baptiste Lully to Christoph Willibald Gluck. The "liner notes" place the music on this CD very nicely into historical context (other composers represented on this CD include Andre Campra, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Jean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville, Jean-Marie Leclair, and Pancrace Royer). I am familiar with only a handful of these, so this is a venture into "terra incognita."

A note on the orchestra is needed, too. They play extremely well (Les Talons Lyriques, conducted by Christoph Rousset). The Overture to Rameau's Prelude to Act III of "Hippolyte et Aricie" exemplifies their art. It is really well played and spirited. This orchestra itself makes this a worthwhile CD.

A few examples of Gens' singing:

Lully, "Armide," Act II, Scene 5 (1686). She shows a strong, rich voice here. She attacks the work with aplomb. There are some mildly annoying affectations (e.g., little catches or gasps for effect here and there), but not problematic.

Rameau, "Hippolyte et Aricie," Act III, Scene 1 (1733). Again, smoothly sung. Her voice, again, is quite lush.

Gluck, "Armide," Act II, Scene 5 (1777). The lyrics are exactly the same as the Lully cut that I looked at previously. That makes a comparison of these two pieces irresistible! Gens sings this well, too. What is especially interesting to me is the wildly distinct vocal styles, as between Lully's and Gluck's compositions! Lully is obviously writing in an entirely different style. Gluck is Mozartean in his musical style. So, the comparison of styles is most educational to me.

I really enjoyed this CD. I did find some sameness in Gens' singing across the different pieces here, but that does not distract much from the overall quality of this CD. For those interested in earlier styles of vocal music, this will be a nice product to listen to.

Flawless Performance
Robert M. Zilli | High in the Rocky Mountains | 11/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"My first foray into French Baroque and its a bullseye. The selections are all top rate (though many quite rare and seldom performed). Veronique Gens is perhaps the finest living soprano and this recording is a perfect 5 stars. I can't more highly endorse this. There is truly not a glitch to be reckoned with. In over 40 years of listenng to all kinds of music, this is one of the best albums I have ever heard"
French Baroque with a Verismo Touch
Terry Serres | Minneapolis, MN United States | 01/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This disc offers strong performances of arias and scenas from the French baroque, presented in chronological order from Lully to Gluck, who died 100 years apart. These two composers fashioned operas from the very same libretto, the tragedy _Armide_ by Quinault; and their contrasting settings of the passage "Enfin il est en ma puissance" bookend this recital. One emerges with the vivid impression that Gluck is far more akin to Mozart than to Lully or Rameau. One composer on this disc, Royer, is new to me and is otherwise represented in the catalog by harpsichord pieces.

Véronique Gens is a prodigiously gifted singer. Her voice is powerful and her vocal production flawless. To my ears, however, she has one notable limitation that afflicts this album as a whole: she lends her interpretations very little dynamic range. Her voice is a commanding presence and capable of expressive inflection, but her volume varies little and this makes for a listening experience of relentless intensity.

Granted, the characters are all tragic, as suggested by the album title. Indeed, most of the personages appearing on this disc are deities and defiant women, and Gens does them full justice. Phèdre, Circé, Armide -- she was born to portray these forces of nature. But many of the selections would have benefited from a softer touch, a more smiling and seductive tone in places.

Comparisons with other performances are interesting but not necessarily helpful since one has to buy complete sets to acquire them. Gens, Fink, Hunt Lieberson, Yakar, Delunsch - all are splendid interpreters worth hearing in this music. The one comparison I will make is Telaïre's aria "Tristes apprêts" from _Castor et Pollux_. On the Christie recording from 1992 (where Gens is cast more to type as the vengeful Phébé) this aria is given by the pure-voiced Agnès Mellon. Christie takes a full 1:40 longer to conduct it, giving Mellon the space to impart a world of tenderness and grief. Rousset and Gens sound perfunctory by comparison. On the other hand, Gens as Circé in _Scylla et Glaucus_ is extraordinary, sounding both terrifying and beautiful, a devastating combination. This is the high point of the disc.

In general I find Rousset to be a notch below Christie, Minkowski, and Gardiner in conducting this repertoire. He is slightly less alert to rhythms, his winds less forward, the strings less nimble, the phrasing and articulation less insightful. The Act III prelude from _Hippolyte_ sounds downright sluggish here, whereas Minkowski (on his "Symphonie imaginaire" album) makes it a sinuously intricate fugue. The overture to _Scylla et Glaucus_ benefits from Gardiner's slightly slower pace, which makes it both more stately and more flexible; Rousset doesn't let the full brilliance of the orchestral sound flourish, and his winds are all but invisible. Rousset does have a taste for emphatic lower strings, which almost seems to be his hallmark as a conductor.

This is a commendable disk, and I found it easier to relax and enjoy Gens's high-intensity singing on repeated listening. Magnificent music in worthy performances.