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Lully - Thésée

Theseus – Howard Crook
Medea – Laura Pudwell
Aegle – Ellen Hargis
King Aegeus – Harry van der Kamp
Cleone – Suzie LeBlanc
Dorine / venus – Mireille Lebel
Priestess of Minerva – Amanda Forsythe
Arcas – Olivier Laquerre

Boston Early Music Festival Chorus & Orchestra/Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs

CPO 777 240-2 : Radio Bremen, September 2006; 3CDs – 173 mins

But nothing is more charming than mutual inconstancy”, thus agree Medea and the King in their charming Act II duet. An atmosphere of tolerant cheerfulness pervades the machinations of a large cast of characters who would have been equally familiar to audiences of Lully’s day as creatures of classic mythology and as caricatures of current celebrities.

The entertainment proceeds at a gentle pace, with plentiful pauses for dance and spirited choruses. Of course there are moments of high drama. Classical sorceresses were famed for their temper tantrums, and Medea runs true to form in this respect, summoning up the inhabitants of Hell in the person of 14 singers, 6 dancing goblins and a ghost - only to relent a few minutes later and replace them with singing shepherdesses accompanied by on-stage flutes and oboes and a choir of inhabitants of the Enchanted Island. The costumes and props department must certainly have been kept on their toes!

On CD the opera stretches to near three hours, and it would be easy to dismiss it as something of mere historic curiosity were it not for the Lully’s delightfully fresh score, as disarming today as the day it was penned.

The orchestra and chorus of Boston Early Music Festival under the twin musical direction of Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs are scrupulously faithful to the spirit of the original, and if the French pronunciation sometimes goes a bit astray it is certainly unnecessary to follow the libretto slavishly word for word.

Amongst an admirable cast I would single out Harry van der Kamp (King Aegeus), Laura Pudwell (Medea), Amanda Forsythe (Priestess of Minerva), Howard Crook in the title role and the hard-worked chorus as deserving special mention.

Time slips by as you listen, returning the listener to an age of gentler pleasures and passing so effortlessly that the end is reached far too swiftly.

Serena Fenwick