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The singers represented the allegorical characters of La Musique, La Poésie, La Peinture and L'Architecture and we were to presume they were working away at their respective arts. First La Musique, an attractive, fragile Olga Pitarch, praised Louis XIV and then each art in turn followed her; La Poésie, sung charmingly by Sunhae Im, L'Architecture and La Peinture, Katalin Karolyi and Cyril Auvity who were musically linked by Charpentier. Auvity is possessed of a lovely high tenor voice and had the distinction of singing the role which Charpentier himself created in the first performance. This Barbican staging was relatively small scale so the singers also doubled as the chorus, which did lead to moments of confusion in the staging.

The peaceful idyll is disturbed by La Discorde, a suitably vivid Nicolas Rivenq, and his cohorts. Here the lack of clarity in the staging became more apparent. The producer, Vincent Brossard's main idea for distinguishing Discord's cohorts was to have the singers balance their music folders on their head. The problem with such small scale, semi-staging is that the producer must find something for the singers to do during the many small dance movements. Given the radiantly musical performances for singers and instrumentalists alike, surely we could have been spared some of the unnecessary busyness.

Discord's intervention is foiled by intervention of La Paix, a radiant Sophie Daneman, and at her instigation the piece concludes with a final celebration by the Arts. As ever with Les Arts Florissants this was an immensely musical and shapely performance. The performers not only gave us fine stylish music by Charpentier, but took visible enjoyment in their performance. Les Arts Florissants is not one of Charpentier's most dramatic works, but it is certainly charming.

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Copyright © 24 January 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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