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Rameau: Operatic Arias for Haute-contre

Jean-Paul Fouchecourt, Opera Lafayette Orchestra & Ryan Brown

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Customer Reviews

Pure Enchantment

Jean-Paul Fouchécourt is probably the world's reigning haute-contre. The term refers to a naturally high tenor voice, not relying on falsetto, that was an important vocal type in French baroque opera. In range and quality it might be considered akin to the familiar "Irish tenor" sound, although the two are deployed in completely different styles of music. One of the crowning roles in French baroque opera is the title role in Rameau's comic opera Platée. The peculiar plot notwithstanding, Rameau lavishes on this work some of his most inspired music. The title role of Platée is a frog nymph done in drag. The fact that Jean-Paul Fouchécourt has never committed his interpretation to disk is frankly one of the most notable omissions in the ongoing revival of Rameau's operas. This new release from Naxos compensates handsomely. It features five extracts from Platée, including Thespis's charming ode to Bacchus from the prologue. Other works represented are the great tragédies lyriques, a couple of pastorales, an episodic entertainment, and a ballet. The program is expertly organized to showcase this variety of styles. Some tracks are brief ariettes, others are extended solo scenes. Instrumental passages that underscore the richness of Rameau's invention are seamlessly interwoven, enhancing the endless flow of charms. The singing, in a word, is faultless - supple, sensitive, beguiling, touching, stylistically alert, and nicely varied throughout. The tender beauty of Fouchécourt's voice, the aptness of his interpretations, bring a tear to the eye, a smile to the lips, and a lump to the throat. In other recordings (Gluck's Orphée et Euridice) I have found his voice a touch too sunny to be convincing in heavier passages. No such limitation afflicts this disk. The somber arias from Castor et Pollux and Dardanus are wholly successful, impassioned and quite moving. Perhaps harder to pull off are the lighter pastorales and entertainments, with their rather ambling structure and fragrant but vague melodies. Yet Fouchécourt's sensitive phrasing and emotional presence maintain their continuity. In fact, the extended scene from Naïs, a musical depiction of lovelorn longing at daybreak, is a minor tour de force. The last track on the album is the aforementioned ariette in praise of Bacchus. It is the perfect valedictory song and the insouciant bit of stage business that caps the performance will send you off with a chuckle. Ryan Brown and Opera Lafayette are not, to my knowledge, big names in the French baroque scene. But I found their playing to lack nothing in balance, style, pacing, and overall accomplishment. In fact, I have to say that I enjoy this ensemble rather more than Christophe Rousset and his Talens Lyriques. Needless to say, Fouchécourt's French is impeccable, and so is his attention to the subtle interplay of language and rhythm. The booklet is a gem too - the brief background notes and plot summaries, along with texts and fine translations, are just what one needs to enjoy the performances unencumbered.

Another great album by Opera Lafayette

This is the third OL album in my collection. The music is exquisite and this latest recording doesn't disappoint.

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