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Radiantly musical

Les Arts Florissants perform music by Charpentier, reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Charpentier had the apparent misfortune to be constantly in the shadow of Lully, whose presence at the French court of Louis XIV meant that Charpentier was unable to write large scale operatic works for the Paris Opera. But Charpentier was supported by the music loving Duchess of Guise, who maintained a substantial musical establishment, so he was able to experiment without being quite so constrained by Louis' court requirements.

For their twenty fifth anniversary tour, Les Arts Florissants and William Christie chose to present two shorter works by Charpentier. Les Arts Florissants is a charming idylle en musique which resembles the prologues from Lully's operas with their allegorical praise of Louis XIV's achievements. The piece famously gave the ensemble its name twenty five years ago. As a companion piece, they performed Charpentier's short opera La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers which is a far more dramatic work, albeit on a compact scale.

The performance was billed as a semi-staging. The Barbican stage, London UK on 20 January 2004 revealed the musicians standing at the side of the stage with the singers seated at music stands amidst stylised flowers. During the overture, the singers ostentatiously worked at their exercises on the music stands. The female singers had been costumed by Christian Lacroix. So in place of their usually stylish dresses they wore fussy white classical drapes which seemed to have had an accident with some fluorescent tie-dyeing.

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Copyright © 24 January 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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