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La Descente d'Orphée

Les Plaisirs de Versailles etc

Les Arts Florrisants/William Christie

WarnerClassics/Erato 4509-96558-2

ENO's Medea with Sarah Connolly has prompted further investigation of Charpentier's discography. This boxed set has important operas/semi-operas.

La Descente d'Orphee is probably incomplete, missing Orpheus' fateful looking-back and Euridice's return to the underworld. In two compact Acts [56 mins] it is expressive to a degreefully comparable with Gluck's far better known opera. With a fine specialist cast led by Paul Agnew it deserves a place in everyone's collection of French opera.

In the same bargain box reissue is Les Plaisirs de Versailles. With Sophie Daneman as La Musique and Katalin Karolyi a feisty La conversation, it proves to be an opera in all but name.

It is to be hoped that ENO's triumphant Medea will start a long overdue recognition of Charpentier as opera composer.

Trois Histoires Sacrées

Mors Saülis et Jonathae
Sacrificium Abrahae
Dialogus inter angelum et pastores

Il Seminario Musicale/Gérard Lesne

Naive Baroque Voices - E8927

"We are no longer in the chapel but in the theatre..."

These three histoires sacrées show Marc-Antoine Charpentier at the height of his capacities as a composer of dramatic works; veritable operatic compositions.

The libretto of The Death of Saul & Jonathan brought back to mind Charpentier's full length David et Jonathas reviewed several years ago, and its story succeeds the account of David's fight and victory, A Scarlatti's "opera in all but name" - Hyperion).

Abraham's preparation to sacrifice his "obedient son, Isaac" builds up the tension until is called off at the last moment; a scene which inspired one of Britten's most affecting Canticles. The Dialogue between the Angel and the Shepherds before they make haste and hurry to Bethlehem is expansively lyrical, bringing to a satisfying close these three compact operatic scenes. Lesney's group (all are named) excel throughout and this is a classy production.

Newly packaged and offered at mid-price this disc is recommendable with one caveat; the fully comprehensive notes, cast lists,and indispensible texts and translations, are squeezed into the plastic jewelcase with extremely small print, a challenge to ageing eyesight. I have had to resort to a magnifying glass. I do not know the comparative costs, but some companies do use tough, thinner paper, whch allows for the information to be presented twice as large as here.

Peter Grahame Woolf