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Charpentier: La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Orchestra: Les Arts Florissants Orchestra & Chorus
  • Conductor: William Christie
  • Composer: Marc-Antoine Charpentier
  • Audio CD (26 Feb. 1996)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Erato
  • ASIN: B000005E3R
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 128,493 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
  • Sample this album Artist (Sample)
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By J. Mcdonald TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 7 May 2015
Format: Audio CD
One of Charpentier`s earliest operas (from about 1686) this is a brief but beguiling work, beautifully presented and performed here by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants.

"Orphée" is a chamber opera in two acts (there is speculation a third existed, but it has never come to light) and was composed for a modest ensemble with ten singers who doubled up as a chorus. There are nine singers here (four women, five men) excellent voices all; amongst them sopranos Sophie Daneman, Monique Zanetti and Patricia Petibon (who sings two roles) along with bass-baritone Fernand Bernadi, who makes an imposing Pluton, and tenor Paul Agnew, who is in the central role of Orphée.
The band is about the same size as the vocal cast and is bolstered by a pair of baroque flutes; the sound is intimate and lean, but the instrumental voicing serves the singing voices well.
Although the piece ends just as Orphée is granted leave to take Euridice back with the usual notorious proviso, the drama doesn't really lose anything, or feel particularly truncated; it probably worked well enough as a staged piece, our modern sensibilities perhaps expect a "completeness" conditioned by the many re-tellings this myth has had since Charpentier wrote this (he apparently composed a cantata a few years prior to this on the same theme ending at the same point).

At any rate, this is a very nice little opera, easily recommendable to those with an interest in the French Baroque. Do have a listen to the sound samples above if they are available or go to the mp3 page.
The playing time runs to just over 56 mins. Full French texts are included with English and German translations.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9066b024) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90bb0318) out of 5 stars Even unfinished, it's a masterpiece 18 July 1999
By - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Some people in London (read the review below) apparently think that unfinished masterpieces of French baroque are not even worth performing. Well, I'm a diehard Charpentier fan who doesn't think so. Charpentier has a special musical language, unique even among other French composers of the period, and far superior to most other baroque composers who've filled the pages with their endless and boring da capo arias and barren recitatives. There is no such thing as a regular recitative and a regular aria when it comes to Charpentier: his music is through-composed and stylistically taut. Thanks to Lully, Charpentier's music never got much credit during the composer's lifetime, and, by inertia, ever since. Thanks to Christie, Charpentier's music is now being restored to its rightful position of glory. I'd tell that guy in London (see below) that Charpentier is better than a hundred Clerambaults. It is hard to imagine a more persuasive case for Charpentier than this fabulous recording. Paul Agnew's performance of Orphee is priceless.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90bc9828) out of 5 stars Charpentier Christie 2 Oct. 2010
By Mark A. Rike - Published on
Format: Audio CD
How amazing is it that the most powerful interpreter of the French baroque is an American?! His recording of Charpentier's La descente d'Orphee aux enfers is simply one of the most beautifully made CD's in the catalog. How unfortunate for the rating system that some complete idiot gave this recording only 3 stars!!! Whoever he/she is doesn't understand the system and it should be removed. They fault the recording for the fact that Charpentier in (about) 1686 did not finish the piece!!!! That has NOTHING to do with what the fabulous team assembled by Mr. Christie accomplished with this recording. AS a professional violinist (and baroque violinist at that), I just feel that I have something to add to this system. Mark Rike
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9262503c) out of 5 stars Absolutely excellent baroque music from a French master 26 Feb. 2012
By C. Collins - Published on
Format: Audio CD
William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are the premier interpreters of the works of Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Charpentier, born in Paris in 1643, studied in Rome when he was 17 with Carissimi, a master of church music. He returns to France in 1670 when he was 27 and is under the patronage of Marie de Lorraine and he remains under her patronage as a composer and singer for the next 17 years. During this time he also collaborated with Moliere's Comedie Francaise. He served for a few years as composer for the chapel of the Dauphin but was never given a royal appointment by Louis XIV. At this time Lully dominated the music of the court of Louis XIV. However he was named as the master of music of the Church of St. Louis which was known for it outstanding music and then master of music of Sainte-Chapelle, that architectural gem in the center of Paris. Here he remained until he died at age 61. Whereas much of his career was devoted to religious music, he had exceptional abilities to compose musical drama, as this CD testifies. The topic of Orpheus is fitting for opera since it is about the power of music to even overcome death.

The main characters in this dreamy opera are Orpheus and his new young bride Euridice, who is bitten by a poisonous snake on their wedding day. Orpheus descends to Hades to persuade Pluto to allow Euridice to return to life on earth. There are other shades in Hades and these characters make Hades a very musical place. It is Pluto's wife Proserpine who convinces her husband to allow Euridice to return and here the opera ends.

The beauty of this opera is outstanding. There is a short overture followed by a cascade of selections sung by the characters in the upper world and most expressively by the characters of the underworld. The cast is superb and of the highest expertise and talent. Tenor Paul Agnew sings the role of Orpheus and his mastery of this role and his expressive voice is delightful, expressive, perfectly controlled, and emotive. The scale of this opera is perfect. It has a relatively small cast and chorus and almost minimal orchestration that is crystal clear and precise in its support of the singers. The voices flow and the instrumentation is in perfect proportion. It is jewel-like in realization. I am listening to it now as I write this review and the beauty of the compositions and performances suspends the movement of my fingers. I am touched by its beautifully sad and balanced perfection.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90ac26f0) out of 5 stars WHAT A BEAUTY! 19 Feb. 2011
By Simon - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I don't agree with the attitude that the opera has a happy end and not with the suspicion that the last part is lost.
After all, the classics were the bread and the butter of the education at that time, and it's not a wild guess to suppose that every french who had access to this music at that time, knew quite well the story of Orpheus and Euridyce.
So i believe that at the end of the opera the audience knew what next.

This opera is quite different from those unbearable and boring operas from, let's say, 1750-2011, especially because it's simply a great piece of music, no matter the genre, and also... because it's not 3 or 4 hours long.

The performance is superb in every respect: the great Christie and his orchestra,
and the excellent role of Orpheus performed by Paul Agnew. If i was Plouton, i would not let him return to the earth!

The recording is good and quite balanced.

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x90ac24ec) out of 5 stars Paul Agnew 21 Oct. 2007
By HSIEH CHENG CHUNG - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I guess most of people must know this story of Orphee and Enfers, but not popular to Charpentier's famous list. I bought it and try it, as past experience, Christie again gave me a beautiful Charpentier experience.
However, in this album, I especially want to point out Paul Agnew, his voice is very bright and warm to touch my hearts. How beautiful his Orphee is.
I checked his background and find he often worked with Christie to sign Charpentier, Rameau, and Handel. I want to post it to remind viewers putting more attention on this excellent tenor
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