CONDUCTOR Paul Agnew’s tracing of the development of French Baroque opera – from its beginnings in the 1670s through to Rameau’s complete mastery of the genre – was a thorough, if over-long, opera history lesson on Saturday morning.
Les Arts Florissants
Star rating: * * * *
With extracts from five operas, most of them unheard of and seldom, if ever, performed, Les Arts Florissants transported the Queen’s Hall audience into the rarified world of the French court. Playing on period instruments, the strings of Les Arts Florissants were clean and clear in their pointed rhythms, with wooden flutes giving a gentle mellowness to the overall texture.
Joined by a quartet of singers, they revelled their way towards Charpentier’s Médée, with some glorious singing from soprano Elodie Fonnard in the title role. Alongside her, the excellent young Scottish soprano Rachel Redmond is a name to watch.
Orchestral shading built up through modifications to instruments, the inclusion of piccolo, trumpet and kettle drums added to the new breadth of sound in Rameau’s Les Indes galantes.
Explaining that Louis Grabu’s Albion and Albanius was the first British opera, Agnew made an interesting claim, but even with his spick-and-span conducting, it failed to convince as a piece of great worth.