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Louis XIV is said to have preferred Atys to all other of Lully’s operas. It was the composer’s fourth tragédie-lyrique, premiered in 1676 at the King’s residence at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Lully’s regular librettist, Quinault, drew from Ovid for his subject matter. Atys was a Phrygian deity who, in this version of the story, loves Sangaride. But she is all set to marry Célénus, King of Phrygia while Atys is secretly loved by the goddess Cybèle. Courtly, or godly, propriety though, prevents her from openly declaring her love which she intends to disclose in a dream by causing Atys to fall into a deep sleep. This beguiling scene (Act 3) is one of the great moments in Lullian opera, full of nuance and contrasting emotion. Little, thereafter goes according to plan and – unusually – the opera does not have a happy ending.

It is well over 25 years since William Christie scored a resounding success with his performances and recording of Atys. The first recorder player back then was Hugo Reyne who now directs his own version of the opera. Reyne’s almost uniformly excellent choral and instrumental équipe is smaller than Christie’s, bringing a greater degree of intimacy to the music. Romain Champion in the high tenor title role is lyrical and agile though I liked somewhat less the unyielding declamation of Matthieu Hein (Idas). Benedicte Tauran’s Sangaride is warmly expressive (‘Atys est trop heureux‘, Act 1) notwithstanding occasional hard edges in the uppermost register. Amaya Dominguez (Cybèle) is appropriately spirited but her vibrato is too wide for my ears. All-in-all, though, a stylish and convincing performance of a rewarding opera; however, the libretto appears only in French.

Nicholas Anderson Read the full review on Agora Classica

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