OP2284. CLEOFIDE (Hasse), w.Christie Cond. Cappella Coloniensis Ensemble; Emma Kirkby, Agnes Mellon, Randall K. Wong, Derek Lee Ragin, Dominique Visse & David Cordier. 4-Capriccio 10 193/96, w.Elaborate Libretto-brochures, Slipcase Set. Final Sealed Copy! - 4006408101932
The general vocal level and overall performance standards are high, without calling striking attention to themselves. They are not so high as the really superlative performance of CLEOFIDE, however, and that excellence may well be one explanation for the better impression Haase's work makes over Telemann's. The Hasse set is under William Christie's direction, athough this time he is not leading his own group, Les Arts Florissants of Paris, but rather the Cappella Coloniensis, in a live recording made by the West German Radio in Cologne. Mr. Christie's momentum and buoyancy, along with the instrumental playing he elicits from his musicians, are superior to those on the Telemann set, and the singing is remarkable.
The cast consists entirely of sopranos and altos, both female and male. Emma Kirkby's account of the title role is as fine as anything she's done on disk, pealing and plaintive, and that of Agnes Mellon in the secondary female role is also lovely. Randall K. Wong and Derek Lee Ragin's singing of the two principal castrato roles is also first rate (check out disk 2, track 7, for coloratura fireworks from Mr. Wong that approach those of Beverly Sills - and Mr. Wong, you have to keep reminding yourself, is a man). The other two parts are ably handled by Dominique Visse and David Cordier.
The opera itself, with its CLEMENZA DI TITO-like tale of Alexander the Great's magnanimity in the face of amorous plotting, might seem a typically stilted opera seria. Yet it is enlivened by three factors. Metastasio's text was altered and adulterated by Michelangelo Boccardi in a way that heightens the proto-Romantic tensions (later in life Hasse would become a close friend of Metastasio, the father of the neo-classical libretto and a much stricter exponent of his esthetic). As a story set in faraway India, at the outer edges of Alexander's empire, it represented an occasion for the sort of scenic exotica and musical invention. Above all, the plodding conventions of the opera seria genre were redeemed by Hasse's own musical gifts.
He was best known as a singer's composer: a former tenor, he composed music that flattered the voice and made it bear the principal expressive weight. But CLEOFIDE is also full of sensuous, ingenious instrumental touches, beautifully exploited by Mr. Christie and his forces. In all, a real treat of a recording, and proof that there was vibrant cultural life in a time and place far distant from the musical world generally familiar to even venturesome American opera lovers.
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 19 June, 1988
An ensemble of singers and instrumentalists specialized in the performance of Baroque music on period instruments, Les Arts Florissants are renowned the world over. Founded in 1979 by the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor William Christie, the Ensemble, named for a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, has played a pioneering role in the revival of a Baroque repertoire that had long been neglected (including the rediscovery of countless treasures in the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France). Today that repertoire is widely performed and admired: not only French music from the reign of Louis XIV, but also more generally European music of the 17th and 18th centuries.
- Les Arts Florissants
Long a leading figure in the early music performance movement, William Christie has been especially influential in restoring opera and French music to their rightful places in the Baroque repertory. He is the harpsichordist and leader of the ensemble Les Arts Florissants. Christie was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1944, and studied piano and organ as a young man. He attended Harvard, graduating with an art history degree and switching to music only for graduate study at the Yale School of Music. His teacher there was the pioneering harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick, best known for his rediscovery and thorough exploration of the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. Christie moved to France in 1971; eventually he not only became a French citizen, but also was named a member of the Legion of Honor. Many early music performers have done stints in the contemporary-music world (and vice versa); between 1971 and 1975, as a member of the Five Centuries Ensemble, Christie participated in premieres of work by such notables as Luciano Berio and Morton Feldman. Between 1976 and 1980 he played keyboards for the early music group Concerto Vocale, led by René Jacobs. In 1979, Christie founded Les Arts Florissants, an ensemble devoted to French, English, and Italian music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The group has done much to revive the difficult genre of French Baroque opera, with its arcane declamatory style; working with leading stage designers and choreographers, Christie has had special success with the operas of Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Jean-Philippe Rameau, rightful mainstays of the operatic repertory in their own times but almost forgotten since then. Since 1994, Christie and Les Arts Florissants have recorded for the major French label Erato, and the contract was renewed in 1999. That year saw the release of the Les Arts Florissants recording of Monteverdi's magnificent VESPRO DELLA BEATA VERGINE (the Vespers of 1610), and recordings of Mozart, Caldara, Lully and other composers were in the works.
- Keith Johnson, allmusic.com