An intriguing “imaginary opera”, Passion marks the return of Véronique Gens to the music of the French Baroque with all the characteristic intelligence and incisive feeling for its vivaciously ornamented style that has marked her out as one of its most expressive exponents.
Structured in five notional acts, it draws heavily on the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully with contributions from Charpentier, Desmarets and their all-but forgotten contemporary, Pascal Collasse. The result focuses on the vocally demanding rôles de baguette (stick roles) – so called because of the use of props (sceptre, cane and wand) to define status and narrative function – prevalent in French opera at the time.
Filtered through three ‘characters’ – Gens, Ensemble Les Surprises and the chorus, Les Chantres du Centre de musique baroque de Versailles – the result is a compelling fabrication that serves as much as an homage to the first voices (detailed in an informative booklet note) to sing these thrilling exercises in emotional and vocal pyrotechnics.
Gens brings her customary precision to bear on diction, her usual insightfulness into character and her defining ability to inhabit the music with nuance and flair, drama and poetry. There is stridency when needed alongside aching confessional (Lully’s Amadis and Armide), imploring vulnerability (Desmarets’ Circé) and much else along the spectrum from wronged to defiant womanhood.
Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas’ Ensemble Les Surprises play with consummate flair and finesse throughout, stealing the limelight with the thunderous Tempest from Collasse’s Thétis et Péléee, elsewhere idiomatically crisp and bitingly precise.
Kudos, too, to Olivier Schneebeli whose leave-taking as director of the Versailles-based chorus accommodates and supports Gens with a perfectly judged and graceful agility.
Composers: Lully, Charpentier, Desmarets
Works: Opera arias
Performers: Véronique Gens, Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Label: Alpha ALPHA 747