- La Bohémienne, opera: Pauvre Nise!
- Scanderberg, opera: Tout est prêt
- Scanderberg, opera: Ouverture
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After triumphant recordings of Handelian opera seria and other Italian material, soprano Sandrine Piau, France's voice of the Baroque, turns her attention to repertory that is very little known outside of France. Even in their homeland, Piau writes in the CD booklet, these arias and instrumental music are merely "not exactly virgin territory." The composers range from familiar except for opera (Rameau, Charpentier) to middling obscurities (André Grétry, André Campra) to complete unknowns (Charles-Simon Favart and the collaborative composer team -- isn't that reason enough to buy the CD right there? -- of François Francoeur and François Rebel). And much of it turns out to have been awaiting only the presence of sympathetic interpreters. The music spans a little more than a century, with the opera Renaud by transplanted Florentine Antonio Sacchini having had its premiere in Paris in 1783. But the commonalities are more important than the march of styles. Piau summarizes them aptly: "The apparent antagonism between declamation and music is resolved in a perfect balance." There's plenty of Piau's vaunted virtuosity on display here: few other sopranos out there can slide quietly off of a high C as she does at several points here. And she is at the very peak of her powers. But the mixture of moods and the natural musical expression of each is equally attractive. Sample the furious "Tout est prêt" (Everything is ready) from Rebel and Francoeur's opera "Scanderberg" (track 6) for a taste of both. Another strength is the work of the historical-instrument ensemble Les Paladins (named for a Rameau opera) and its leader, Jérôme Correas, which has almost singlehandedly forged for French music a counterpart to the work of Rinaldo Alessandrini and others in Italy: an instrumental language that draws effectively on the conventions of contemporary vocal music. The instrumental pieces here, like the "Scanderberg" overture, are as exciting as the vocal ones, and the musicians may have added a few of them to the standard repertory. Anyone with the slightest interest in Baroque opera cannot afford to be without this release.