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When Rameau’s fifth opera, the tragédie lyrique Dardanus, was first staged in 1739, it met with only limited success; critics especially disparaged the weak libretto, with its over-reliance on supernatural and fantastical events, such as the appearance of a fire-breathing sea monster. For the opera’s 1744 revival, Rameau and his librettist La Brère completely rewrote the last three acts, making the plot tighter and less implausible but sacrificing much of an original score that Rameau scholar Graham Sadler has ranked among the composer’s ‘most inspired creations’.

You can hear that 1739 version on Marc Minkowski’s excellent 2000 recording for Archiv. This newly reissued Raphaël Pichon set on Alpha (first released in 2013) is based on the 1744 revision, so we lose the sea monster and some exquisite music, such as the Act IV sleep scene, but we gain the superb new music Rameau inserted, notably ‘Lieux funestes’, a heart-wrenching prison aria for Dardanus, with bassoon obbligato, that Minkowski has called ‘the finest haute-contre aria ever written’.

Contemporary Ramistes will want both versions and should find much pleasure in this Pichon recording. The singing is first class, with Bernard Richter outstanding as Dardanus, while Ensemble Pygmalion bring out all the hues of Rameau’s colourful score; its delightful array of airs, ballets, choruses and spectacular set pieces even includes a thrilling episode in Act II when the magician Isménor conjures a solar eclipse!

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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