- Hercule Mourant, opera in 5 acts
Antoine Dauvergne was a student of Rameau who was among the last figures to work in the classic French Baroque forms of tragédie lyrique, opera-ballet, ballet héroïque, and so forth. "Hercule Mourant (Hercules Dying)" was a tragédie lyrique, composed in 1761. Its story, based on the ancient Greek (Sophocles) play Trachiniae, tells the tragic story of the Greek hero and his wife Déjanire, jealous to a deadly point. Déjanire is an impressively furious tragic figure, and she is sung with characteristic verve here by Véronique Gens; her fans will probably want this album on general principles. The opera was revived by the performers here, Les Talens Lyriques and their conductor, French historical-instrument specialist and keyboardist Christophe Rousset; after some years of work, it was performed right where the work originated, at the Opéra Royal at Versailles in 2011. This is a live recording of one of those performances. It's a strikingly old-fashioned work for 1761, without much Italian influence or even the experimental quality of Rameau. What Dauvergne brings to his text are some very big tunes, splendid processions and lively dances, and a variety of instrumentation absent from earlier works: the trials of the dying Hercules toward the end are communicated through a unique texture that includes bassoons. There are also a lot of recitatives and a lot of dances that don't advance the action, and it's a work that may well come off better in live performance, where there's a good deal of spectacle, than it does on recordings, where the theater has a rather boxy sound. Still, there's a good deal here to interest Baroque buffs as well as fans of Gens, Rousset, or a few of the other singers.