This is the first full recording of the 1665 courtly entertainment, Ballet Royal de la Naissance de Vénus, a high-point of the genre in which, between 1657 and 1670, Lully composed full 25 ballets. King Louis XIII considered ballet a powerful political instrument; Louis XIV continued the tradition, and Lully was a major contributor.
The scores we have today leave some space for imagination as to scoring - flutes, oboes and bassoons were avaialable to the composer, although the scores rarely mention them, so they can be added to give colour (as is the case here). Premiered in January 1665 at the Palais Royal, La Naissance de Vénus was a tribute to the King's sister-in-law, Henrietta of England (who was to premiere the role of Vénus). As one might imagine, there was plenty of spectacle: the ballet opens with Vénus birthed from the ocean on a mother-of-learl throne surrounded by a dozen sea nymphs and celebrated by the deities Thétis and Peleus, not to mention a chorus of Tritons. Mythical couples such as Apollo/Daphne, Ariane.Bacchus, Proserpina/Pluto and Orpheus/Eyridice also make appearances in the ballet.
Here's the brief Overture:
The score includes both French and Italian styles - compositionally virtuosic, it is incredibly wide-ranging, but consistently beautiful. The libretto was by Isaac de Benserade.
This "Menuet des Bergers" (Shepherds' Minuet), short and sweet, exemplifies the lightness Rousset and his forces are capable of:
From that to this simply beautiful "Plainte d'Ariane et double 'Rochers vous êtes souris'" is quite a way (the superb Deborah Cachet is the soprano below):
... or indeed to this this "Dialogue des trois Grâces, 'Admirons notre jeuneet charmante déesse'":
The piece is utterly remarkable (and this from a non-balletophile!). As always, Rousset has chosen his singers with real care.
In addition, there are a number of airs from other operas: Armide's air from Ballet Royal des amours déguisés, beautifully sung by Amandine Blé, a "Plainte italienne" from Psyché from the excellent Cachet, plus a fabulous Chaconne d'Arlequin from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. But let's round off with Barbacola's Air from Le Carnaval, "Son dottor per occasion," a lovely bawdy song courtesy of Philipps Estèphe:
This is the ninth recording of Lully by Les Talens Lyriques. Recorded in January 2021 at the Cité de la Musique-Philharmonie de Paris, it was made in the wake of sadly cancelled performances in Paris and Vienna.
Further discs of Lully are to come: in the 2021/2 season, Les Talens Lyriques will also record Acis et Galatée and Psyché to disc, while performances of Psyché are planned in Vienna on January 27, 2022 (at the Theater an der Wien) and at Versailles (Opéra Royal, January 30, 2022).