There have been few attempts by singers of French music to replicate the success of Renée Fleming and others in singing French Baroque opera, and the reason is doubtless that, except for those who are already into them, the operas of Lully (and to a lesser extent Rameau) are encrusted with a great deal of conventional material. Véronique Gens and the Ensemble Les Surprises, with superb help from the Chantres du Musique Baroque de Versailles, attempt to get around this by creating an "imaginary opera," consisting of airs from various Lully operas and from works by his successors, who flowered after Lully speared his foot with a baton, got gangrene, and died. In truth, even given the loose plot structures of French Baroque opera, the collection doesn't make much of an opera, and the performers don't emphasize this aspect in their materials, but it doesn't matter, for they succeed in their goal of creating a zippy program that includes music of various kinds within the bounds of a single CD. The musical tasks are divided between Gens' singing, the instrumentalists, and the choir, with several pieces structured as dialogues between Gens and the choir, and there is a sprinkling of colorful instrumental interludes like the "Canaries" dance with its castanets from Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, an up-to-the-minute sound for the time. Gens herself sounds great. Passion is being billed as her return to Baroque music, and it may be that she chose this repertory in her mid-fifties for its relatively modest dimensions, yet this doesn't matter, either; she is affecting in the plangent airs on the titular passion theme. The accompanimental work from the Ensemble Les Surprises, whom Gens handpicked for the project, is crisp and engaging, and the sound from the Metz Arsenal is ideal. Listeners' eyes may tend to glaze over when Lully is mentioned, but here is a release that brings his music to life.
Passion: Lully, Charpentier, Desmarets
Véronique Gens / Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
(CD - Alpha #ALPHA 747)