- Atys, opera, LWV 53
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Lully's tragédie en musique, "Atys," with a text by his favored librettist, Philippe Quinault, was one of his greatest operatic successes and was significant for setting a new standard for a distinctively French approach to opera. While Lully's operas have not entered the repertoire, they have fared well on record thanks to the efforts of some top-notch early music ensembles, and this 2010 performance of "Atys" featuring Hugo Reyne leading La Simphonie du Marais and Le Choeur du Marais is a superb addition to the composer's discography. The opera, in a prologue and five acts, is based on Ovid and describes the tragic love of Sangaride, a wood nymph (who is loved by the King Célénus), and the shepherd Atys, who in turn is loved by the vengeful goddess Cybèle. Lully was at the height of his expressive powers, and the opera is a marvel of acute psychological insight clothed in music of the utmost elegance and grace. It's easy to see how "Atys," lasting almost three hours, might have its longeurs as a staged production, so an audio recording may be the ideal way to experience it, and it's hard to imagine a more gratifying performance than this one. The orchestral playing is above reproach: shapely, fluid, nuanced, and dramatically potent without ever sacrificing its idiomatic refinement and chaste purity. The singers are consistently excellent, and the featured soloists, soprano Bénédicte Tauran, mezzo-soprano Amaya Dominguez, tenor Romain Champion, and baritone Aimery Lefèvre, each taking multiple roles, are outstanding, singing with gorgeous tone and a sure grasp of the idiosyncrasies of middle-Baroque French vocal technique and ornamentation. The entire performance is absolutely lovely, but the extended "Sleep and Dream" sequence at the center of the third act is just breathtaking, surely one of the composer's most serene and inspired creations, performed here to perfection. The sound is a little on the bright side in some places, but is present, clean, and nicely balanced. Highly recommended.