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Commentary

04 Jul 2020

Les Talens Lyriques announces 2020-21 season with first modern performances of Salieri's Armida

Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques announce their 2020-21 season championing heroines, with the first modern performances of Salieri's breakthrough success Armida, 250 years after the work's premiere. A recording of Armida to be made during the season is complemented by the release of Mozart's Betulia liberate on Aparté this autumn. In June 2021, Les Talens Lyriques join the centennial Mozartfest Würzburg with performances of Idomeneo.

Further recordings from the ensemble include a DVD of Stefano Landi's La Morte d'Orfeo from the Dutch National Opera's 2018 production, and a solo disc of Armand-Louis Couperin's harpsichord works from Christophe Rousset.

From the comfort of your own home, a venture with mobile application NomadPlay transforms Les Talens Lyriques into your own sophisticated instrumental backing track, with some of Handel's most famous arias available as Baroque karaoke.

Christophe Rousset said:

"I am proud to present our new season of heroines: complex, rich and dynamic in their identities, moving in their expression, eloquent, sensual; they are bearers of a discourse rich in metamorphoses such as has always appealed to me. Truth, humanity and authenticity are values that have always guided my ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques."

250 years after its first performance at Vienna's Burgtheater in 1771, Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques revive Salieri's Armida with the first modern performances of the composer's first breakthrough success. The concert production returns to Vienna (Theater an der Wien, 19 February 2021) following performances at the Paris Philharmonie (2 February 2021) and in Caen (30 January 2021). Armida will be recorded by Les Talens Lyriques and released on disc in December 2020.

Based on a libretto by Marco Coltellini, Armida was inspired by Torquato Tasso's epic Gerusalemme liberata, and had been the subject of operas by Lully, Traetta and Handel among others. Salieri's three-act dramma per musica is located exclusively in the enchanted garden where Armida holds the bewitched warrior Rinaldo prisoner. Lenneke Ruiten takes the title role, with Florie Valiquette as Rinaldo.

Exploiting the melodic richness of Italian opera within the dramatic framework of French tragédie lyrique, Armida was much praised by critics and was one of the few Italian operas to be published in Germany in the 18th century. Despite the tarnished views of Antonio Salieri perpetuated in popular culture, the composer was a pivotal figure in the development of late 18th-century opera, writing nearly forty such works in three languages, and his work inspired opera composers from Mozart to a young Berlioz.

Christophe Rousset has acted as a ‘musical archaeologist’ since his acclaimed soundtrack to the film Farinelli, and has long championed Salieri's work in an effort to restore the misunderstood composer's works to their rightful place. In 2005, Rousset released a landmark first recording of La grotta di Trofonio, and Les Talens Lyriques recently completed their critically-acclaimed series of Salieri's three blood-thirsty French operas: Les Danaïdes (2017), Les Horaces (2018), and Tarare (2019).

The goddess Venus is the object of adoration in two ballets from the French Court in the late 1600s by Jean-Baptiste Lully and his disciple Pascal Collasse, paired in concert together as La Naissance de Vénus by Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques in Paris (Cité de la Musique, 12 January 2021) and at Vienna's Festival Resonanzen (Wiener Konzerthaus, 16 January 2021).

Lully's celebratory Ballet royal de la naissance de Vénus was danced by nobles, including Louis XIV, at the French Court in 1665. Written by Benserade in homage to Henrietta of England, the two-part ballet recounts the creation of Venus before establishing and praising the power and authority that she extends through the universe.

Pascal Collasse's setting of thirty years later, in which rivalries between the suitors of Venus almost start a war on Olympus, acknowledges its considerable debts to Lully in the preface. Collasse's career was dominated by his association with the older composer, whose influence worked both to the benefit and to the detriment of the younger man. The two works are performed with a joint cast including Deborah Cachet, Bénedicte Tauran and Ambroisine Bré.

In June 2021, Les Talens Lyriques return to Germany to perform Mozart's Idomeneo, a grand celebration for the centenary of the Mozartfest Würzburg. The performances (11-12 June 2021) will take place at the 18th-century Würzburg Residenz, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Baroque palace. Mozart's operatic dilemma is performed in concert with a starry cast including Julian Prégardien as the titular King of Crete, Judith van Wanroij as the Trojan princess Ilia, and Myrtò Papatanasiu as Elettra.

Across the 20-21 season, a growing emphasis on the composer sees Les Talens Lyriques release Mozart's Betulia liberata on disc and explore Mozart's Symphonies no. 39 & 41 at Linz's Brucknerhaus (21 February). The three symphonies, composed in rapid succession in the summer of 1788, are paired with Michael Haydn's Symphony no. 39, also written in the same year. At the Opéra Royal de Wallonie, Liège, Christophe Rousset is the guest conductor in Jean Liermier's production of Mozart's Così fan tutte (14-22 May 2021), following previous appearances at the house with Le Nozze di Figaro (2018) and Die Entführung aus dem Serail (2013).

Les Talens Lyriques travel to London's Wigmore Hall at the turn of the year in a special New Year's Eve concert pairing two of Bach's Harpsichord Concertos with Vivaldi's famous Quattro Stagioni, joined by violinist Gilone Gaubert. The 31 December 2020 concert is the first of three appearances at the London venue, which sees the group return on 28 February with Couperin's Les Nations. A musical adventure across Europe, the composer's fourth collection of instrumental chamber works is formed of four ordres which reflected the four great political powers of Couperin's world: the French, Spanish, Holy Roman Empire and the Savoy dynasty of Piedmont.

Following the release of their five-star recording of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, Les Talens Lyriques are rejoined by soloists Sandrine Piau and Christopher Lowrey as they perform the Stabat Mater on tour in the approach to Easter 2021 in Genoa (22 March), Bologna (23 March), and Heidelberg (28 March), ending their tour in London at the Wigmore Hall during Easter weekend, Saturday 3 April 2021. The Neapolitan school is one of Christophe Rousset's first musical loves, and the Pergolesi Stabat Mater is a work that has long been in Les Talens Lyriques' repertoire.

The programme, which frames Pergolesi's final work with unpublished motets by two great exponents of the Neapolitan school, Nicola Porpora and Leonardo Leo, was named BBC Music Magazine's Choral & Song Choice (June 2020) and BBC Radio 3 Record Review's Record of the Week (11 April 2020) following its release on Alpha in March 2020.

Les Talens Lyriques continue their association with the newly reopened Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, performing Bach's St. John Passion from 10-13 May in the dramatic staging by Calixto Bieito. The production brings a choir of local residents together in the heart of the narrative, with soloists including Joshua Ellicott as the Evangelist.

Les Talens Lyriques are uniquely directed in this staging by viola da gamba player and frequent collaborator, Philippe Pierlot. Ensemble founder Christophe Rousset and Pierlot join together to present Bach in recital ahead of the production, performing Bach's three Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord at BOZAR in Brussels on 25 February.

Leading mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg joins Les Talens Lyriques in Paris (29 September) and Dortmund (1 October) in an all-Purcell programme, Music for a while, centred around his song collection Orpheus Britannicus. The programme also includes the composer's Suite no. 2 in G minor and Suite no. 7 in D minor.

On 10 December 2020, Les Talens Lyriques are joined by Australian soprano and frequent collaborator Siobhan Stagg for Amour Amor, for music by Lully, Scarlatti, Handel, Leclair and Montéclair in Rouen's Chapelle Corneille.

The programme of cantatas centres around the strong female figures Ariadne, Lucretia and Armida, finishing with Handel's restless Notte placida e cheta (Calm and Placid Night), and its unconventional fugal ending. In Michel Pignolet de Montéclair's heart-rending cantata La Morte di Lucretia, the central figure is a sagacious, political woman fully aware of the consequences of her act. Scarlatti's vivid L'Arianna cantata turns the abandoned love of Ariadne into a powerful tempest of grief and betrayal for her faithless lover Theseus, while Lully's heroine Armide battles fiercely with love and vengeance within herself.

A busy schedule of new recordings sees Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques release four new recordings over their 2020/21 season. Salieri's Armida is released in December 2020 on Aparté, following the release in September 2020 of Mozart's Betulia liberata, also on Aparté. Mozart's only oratorio traces the influence of the older composer Salieri on his younger colleague and was written when Mozart was only fifteen. The highly virtuosic arias feature Sandrine Piau, Teresa Iervolino, Amanda Forsythe, Pablo Bemsch and Nahuel di Pierro.

In a DVD of the 2018 Dutch National Opera production, released on Naxos on 12 June 2020, Les Talens Lyriques unveil the exquisite music of Stefano Landi's La morte d'Orfeo. Landi's narrative, directed by Pierre Audi, begins where Monteverdi's L'Orfeo ends, with the character torn apart and finally reincarnated as a star in the sky.

"Les Talens Lyriques […] conjured up universes of sound from the pit. They seem an extension of Rousset's thought processes; more, it is safe to say that I have never encountered such technical perfection from authentic instruments before, whether in articulation, accuracy of attack or in tuning."

In a solo disc released on Aparté in September 2020, Christophe Rousset turns to the harpsichord music of Armand-Louis Couperin. A member of the Couperin dynasty, Armand-Louis was renowned for his improvisations on the Te Deum and his reputation as a masterful organist in the churches of Paris. His wife's family were harpsichord manufacturers and his writing calls for experimental instrumental features allowing dynamics, rarely found in instruments today.

Recent recordings from Les Talens Lyriques have garnered immense success, with a recent nomination at the BBC Music Magazine Awards 2020 and the Belgian critics' Caecilia Prize 2019 for Gounod's Faust (Palazzetto Bru Zane, September 2019). Lully's Isis (Aparté, December 2020) was nominated as Editor's Choice in Gramophone Magazine (January 2020) and as Opera Choice in BBC Music Magazine (February 2020).

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