L'Opéra des Opéras is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of arias fitted together into a little opera, complete with airs, choruses, and an overture and instrumental interludes. The practice is well-documented for 18th-century opera productions in various countries, and no less a figure than Handel undertook it several times. Cynics might say that these productions show how generic opera plots of the period could be: here you have a handsome prince, a charming princess, and a wicked witch who schemes to disrupt their relationship. Conductor Hervé Niquet, in a charming note, also points out the story's relationship to that of the U.S. Bewitched television series and even uses a photo of the original show for the album graphics. All of which suggests that he approaches the production in the proper spirit of fun, and indeed the production glitters with the bright sounds it would have had in a hypothetical 18th-century performance at the Royal Opera House at Versailles, where it was recorded. Niquet and his historical-instrument group Le Concert Spirituel have done their job well, selecting musical numbers that sound for all the world as though they should follow one another, even though they come from entirely disparate sources. Sample the chorus "Ô grandeur! ô clemence," from Rameau's Le Temple de la Gloire of 1746, followed by the air and chorus "Éclatante trompette, annoncez," from Les Fêtes d'Hébé (recorded seven years earlier). The dates of the excerpts range from 1686 (the final "Passacaille" from Lully's Armide) to 1773, in the case of the "Entr'acte" from Callirhoé, by André Cardinal Destouches and Antoine Dauvergne. But musical styles in France, like the monarchy itself, changed slowly, and everything coheres as a single piece. Callirhoé is one of a number of absolutely unfamiliar but eminently worthy of hearing; Niquet seems to have included these in a spirit of exploration, which is all for the good. Alpha's engineering work at Versailles is superb, and though this might not be a pick for Baroque newcomers, it's essential for enthusiasts.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|L' Opéra des Opéras|