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ClassicsOnline Home » RAMEAU: Operatic Arias for Haute-contre
This recording of airs from Rameau’s heroic ballets and lyric tragedies features the renowned haute-contre Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, one of the main exponents of the French Baroque repertoire for the last decade and who, most recently, has been closely associated with Rameau’s opera Platée. In these excerpts, Rameau’s colourful palette of musical characterization traverses a wide range of emotion, from the profoundly moving Lieux funestes (Dardanus) to the witty and imaginative air Charmant Bacchus (Platée) when, for example, Rameau cleverly employs ‘drunken’ part writing under Thespis’ words “Dussé-je être mal écouté” (“Even at the risk of being misunderstood”).
By David Denton
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Operatic Arias – The Artistry of Jélyotte
Jean-Philipp Rameau (1683-1764)
Rameau was the leading French composer of his time, in particular after the death of Couperin in 1733. He made a significant and lasting contribution to musical theory. Born in Dijon, two years before the year of birth of Handel, Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, Rameau spent the earlier part of his career principally as organist at Clermont Cathedral. In 1722 or 1723, however, he settled in Paris, publishing further collections of harpsichord pieces and his important Treatise on Harmony, written before his removal to Paris. From 1733 he devoted himself largely to the composition of opera and to his work as a theorist, the first under the patronage of a rich amateur, in whose house he had an apartment. Rameau contributed to a variety of dramatic forms, continuing, in some, the tradition of Lully. These included tragédies lyriques, comédies lyriques and comédies-ballets. His first success in 1733 was Hippolyte et Aricie, but as time went on fashions changed and the stage works he wrote after Les Paladins in 1760 remained unperformed.
The Artistry of Jélyotte, Haute-contre
Pierre de Jélyotte was born in the village of Lasseube near the town of Pau in South West France on 13 April 1713. He studied voice and composition as well as harpsichord, organ, violin and guitar in Toulouse and went to Paris in 1733. According to Constant Pierre, he made his début at the Concert Spirituel in May of that year and won a sensational success. He joined the Paris Opéra (The Académie Royale de Musique, as it was then called) where he made his début in the small part of a Greek Man in the revival of the heroic ballet in three acts of Colin de Blamont, Les Festes grecques et romaines, on 11 June 1733. His performance was reviewed very favourably in the June issue of the Mercure de France and he was then chosen to sing l'Amour and one of the Fates for the première of Rameau's first opera Hippolyte et Aricie on 1 October 1733.
Jélyotte had a powerful and very supple voice with a wide range (F'to d''). This high tenor voice was known in French as haute - contre, a term that avoids the confusion of divergent definitions of the English word 'countertenor'. The French haute - contre is a high tenor who can sing in natural voice from e to c''. Only occasionally will an haute-contre use falsetto at the top of his range. Jélyotte was soon given increasingly important rôles at the opera. At the première of Rameau's heroic ballet Les Indes galantes on 23 August 1735, he sang the principal male parts of Valère and Don Carlos in the first and second act. At the age of 22, he had become a star, and from then on he would sing both major and minor parts to great applause until his retirement in 1755.
After retiring from the Paris Opéra, Jélyotte continued to sing at the service of the court in operatic programs in Versailles and Fontainebleau. In 1762 after one such performance the Mercure de France reported that he was '…still admirable, appearing to enjoy all the brilliance and flexibility of his voice, (and) could not fail to be more charming than ever'. On 9 November 1765, however, he took leave and returned to his home in South West France where, after years of peaceful retirement, he died on 11 September 1797.
From 1733 to his retirement from the Paris Opéra in 1755, Jélyotte sang 46 characters in 41 works (36 premières and five revivals) and was given important rôles in thirteen of the sixteen compositions of Rameau mounted during this time. The success of Rameau's operas was due in great part to the artistry of Jélyotte and his colleague, the soprano Marie Fel. Jean-Louis de Cahusac, one of Rameau's librettists underscores the point, writing:
'We enjoy nowadays two singers who have carried taste, precision, expression and lightness of singing to a point of perfection that one would never before have thought possible. The art owes its great progress to them, for without doubt it is to the possibilities that Mr. Rameau saw in their brilliant, flexible voices that opera owes its remarkable pieces with which this illustrious composer has enriched French singing.'
Nizam P. Kettaneh
The career of the eighteenth-century haute-contre Jélyotte was inextricably linked with Rameau's operas. In the recent Rameau revival, the haute-contre Jean-Paul Fouchécourt has been similarly closely associated with Platée, and we are very pleased to be recording highlights of this work with him. With Platée, Rameau brought enormous imagination and musical subtlety to a comic title-rôle. The composer's colourful palette of musical characterization is still more striking when heard alongside other haute-contre airs from his heroic ballets and his lyric tragedies. Placing Platée with the pastoral La Guirlande and on the same recording as the profoundly moving Lieux funestes from Dardanus allows us to traverse a wide range of emotions within Rameau's work. In Näis we have joined excerpts which in the original are separated by other music, and in Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour and Zäis we have placed some pieces out of their original sequence. As with Thespis in the final air Charmant Bacchus, we hope that the "dieu de la liberté" allows us a few freedoms and, in the case of Platée, permits us to laugh. Rameau, the master of harmony, surely intended no less when, for instance, he cleverly employed 'drunken' part-writing under Thespis's words "Dussé-je être mal écouté" ("Even at the risk of being misunderstood").
Excerpts from Platée, La Guirlande de fleurs, Naïs, Castor et Pollux, Les Festes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, Dardanus, Zoroastre and Zaïs
Platée had its première as a single performance at Versailles on 31 March 1745, as part of the festivities celebrating the marriage of the Dauphin, son and heir to Louis XV, with a Spanish royal princess. It was overshadowed by the other spectacles offered on this occasion, the creation of a comedy-ballet by Voltaire and Rameau, La Princesse de Navarre, and the revivals of Lully's Thésée, Royer's Zaïde, and Rebel and Francoeur's Zélindor, Roi des Sylphes. Jélyotte held the title rôle. On 9 February 1749, it was given with a slightly altered libretto at the Paris Opéra where it enjoyed a successful run of performances. The Paris Opéra revival of Platée in 1754 at the height of the Querelle des Bouffons sealed its triumph.
Jupiter is tired of the jealous reproaches of his wife Juno. Mercury suggests to Jupiter a stratagem by which he believes Juno will be cured of her importunate jealousy. To show Juno how unfounded is her perpetual suspicion, Jupiter will feign to fall in love with the most preposterously unlikely creature. Platée is a mature and ungainly frog-like water-nymph who believes she is most alluring. There is no danger that the ever-philandering Jupiter will fall in love with her.
In the first act, Platée is introduced to us as she fantasizes about her love for King Kithaeron. [Track 1]
Mercury is sent to Platée to inform her that Jupiter is pining after her. She believes him instantly and announces triumphantly to her nymphs the imminent homage of the king of all gods. 
Platée has no doubts of the sincerity of her new suitor and awaits him impatiently. Jupiter descends majestically from the rafters in a cloud. 
In the third act, Mercury is preparing a mock wedding feast for Jupiter and Platée. To the tune of a jaunty march the wedding party makes its entrance on stage: Dancing dryads and satyrs, singing nymphs from Platée's suite. Platée, completely covered by a wedding veil, enters on a chariot borne along by two frogs, with Jupiter and Mercury, on foot, on each side of it. After the march, Platée jumps down from her chariot, takes Jupiter by the hand and brings him to the edge of the stage where she confides to him. 
La Guirlande de fleurs
The one-act ballet La Guirlande de fleurs had its première at the Paris Opéra (L'Académie Royale de Musique, as it was then called) on 21 September 1751, in an evening presenting along with it Rameau's Les Sauvages, an act from his opera-ballet Les Indes galantes, and Rebel and Francoeur's one-act ballet Les Génies tutélaires. Jélyotte sang the role of Myrtil.
The action takes place in a rustic Arcadian venue. There is an altar dedicated to the god of Love (Cupid) with a statue of Cupid in the background. The shepherd Myrtil is in love with the shepherdess Zélide. They have exchanged magic garlands of flowers that stay fresh as long as each remains faithful to the other. On a journey to obtain his parents' blessing for his union with Zélide, Myrtil allows himself a passing dalliance with one Amarillys. At the beginning of the opera, Myrtil has returned from his journey and is embarrassed that the flowers of his garland have wilted. He reproaches himself for his infidelity and places his wilted garland on the altar of the god of Love (Cupid), begging the god to revive his flowers. 
After the departure of Myrtil, Zélide enters the scene with a group of shepherds and shepherdesses to the tune of an Air gracieux, a lovely musical portrait of Zélide.
Castor et Pollux
The tragédie lyrique of Castor et Pollux had its première at the Paris Opéra on 24 October 1737. The libretto was severely criticized but the opera was nonetheless very successful. The libretto was profoundly modified for the revival of 1754. This revival, given its première on 11 January 1754, served as a weapon in the Querelle des bouffons which set the supporters of French tragédie lyrique against the supporters of Italian opera buffa. The resounding success of Castor et Pollux in 1754 settled the debate in favour of French opera. At that revival, Jélyotte sang the rôle of Castor. It was at one of the subsequent performances of this work in 1755 that he made his adieu to the Paris Opéra.
Castor and Pollux are fraternal twins. According to Greek mythology, Leda, their mother, was visited on the same night by Jupiter (disguised as a swan) and by her husband Tyndarus, King of Sparta. As a result, Pollux is the son of Jupiter and is immortal, while Castor is the son of Tyndarus and is a mortal.
Télaïre and Phébé are two sisters, daughters of Apollo. While Télaïre has an irresistible charm to which all men fall prey, her sister is lacking this gift, but has instead the power to conjure hell to her support.
In the 1754 version of the libretto, Pollux is about to marry Télaïre who loves Castor and is loved by him. Phébé also loves Castor and through her powers knows that Castor loves Télaïre. She also knows that Lyncée, a thwarted lover of Télaïre, is planning to abduct Télaïre before she marries Pollux.
Castor bids farewell to Télaïre and informs her that he is going into exile rather than be reminded for ever of his hopeless love. The conversation is overheard by Pollux who orders Castor to stay and gives his brother the hand of Télaïre because he cannot bear to witness the unhappiness of the two people he loves most. Castor sings of his happiness but his joy is cut short by Lyncée's attempt, abetted by Phébé, forcefully to abduct Télaïre. Pollux and Castor fight him off but in the battle Castor is killed.
We next meet Castor in the Elysian Fields, the realm of the shades, where he is unable to find peace and forget his beloved Télaïre. He gives vent to his longing in the Air. 
Naïs had its première at the Paris Opéra on 22 April 1749. Jélyotte took the rôle of Neptune, god of the Seas. The libretto informs us that: The stage represents the shore of the Isthmus of Corinth, where the Isthmic games are due to be held. Naïs is a beautiful water-nymph gifted with an entrancing voice. She has been elected to preside over the Isthmic games held in honour of Neptune.
Neptune, having heard the voice of Naïs, fell in love with her. He decides to attend the Isthmic games with his courtiers all disguised as seamen and court Naïs. She is attracted to the stranger but is greatly embarrassed to hear him link her name with that of the god of the seas. The compliments Neptune pays to Naïs enrage her two thwarted suitors Telenus and Asterion. They decide to take arms against their unknown rival. At the beginning of Act III, Neptune, still in disguise, decides to meet Naïs on the shore where she is in the habit of walking and singing every morning at dawn. Naïs, fearful of what may happen, warns the disguised Neptune of his rivals' plan. In so doing she reveals her love for Neptune, who sings his joy in the following scene and Ariette. 
Les Festes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour
The heroic ballet Les festes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, in three self-contained acts preceded by a prologue, was first performed at Versailles on 15 March 1747, to celebrate the second wedding of the Dauphin, son of King Louis XV, with Marie-Joséphe of Saxony, the future mother of the kings Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X. The first wife of the Dauphin, for whose wedding Rameau had composed Platée and La Princesse de Navarre in 1745, had died in childbirth a year later.
The title of the first act is Osiris. Orthezie, Queen of the Amazons, is being courted by the god Osiris. She enjoins him to flee because the gods and the laws of her land do not tolerate the presence of men and her subjects are up in arms, ready to put him and his retinue to death. Osiris undeterred answers Orthezie in the beguiling Air gracieux and Ariette. After further threats from the Queen and her subjects, Osiris manages to touch the heart of the Queen who relents. 
Dardanus had its première at the Paris Opéra on 19 November 1739, with Jélyotte in the title-rôle. It had mixed reviews owing to the wretchedness of the libretto. Rameau and his librettist, Charles-Antoine Le Clerc de la Bruère, rewrote most of the libretto and the music for the revival of the work at the Paris Opéra on 23 April 1744. Here again, Jélyotte sang the title-rôle.
Dardanus is the son of Jupiter and the founder of the city of Troy and the enemy of Teucer, the king of Phrygia. Iphise, daughter of Teucer, is secretly in love with Dardanus but Teucer, has promised her hand to Anténor, a neighbouring king, in exchange for an alliance to wage war on Dardanus.
Dardanus goes to consult Isménor, the magician, and tells him of his love for Iphise, the daughter of his enemy. Isménor gives him a magic wand that makes him invincible and gives him the outward appearance of Isménor himself. Thereupon Anténor arrives at the door of the magician and mistakes Dardanus for Isménor. Anténor reveals to the disguised Dardanus his love for Iphise and his suspicion that Iphise has responded coldly to his courtship because she may love another. Dardanus tries to find out from Anténor who may be the lucky rival to the heart of Iphise but Anténor has quickly to hide away as Iphise is arriving to consult the magician about her secret love for Dardanus. It is Dardanus, still disguised as Isménor, who receives her confidence. He reveals himself by casting away the magic wand and in turn tells Iphise of his love. Iphise flees in fright and embarrassment and Dardanus is caught by the men of Anténor and Teucer and thrown into prison. Act IV of the 1744 version opens with Dardanus in his prison. He sings the Air. 
Zoroastre had its première at the Paris Opéra on 5 December 1749, at the height of Rameau's popularity with the Parisian public. In fact since January 1748 no less than six of his works had been staged by the Paris Opéra, prompting the government to issue an order forbidding the opera management to stage more than two Rameau works in any season in order not to discourage other composers. Once again Jélyotte was given the title-rôle.
Abramane, high priest of the god of Evil, has managed to convince the people of Bactria that their gods had caused the untimely death of Phaeres, king of Bactria, for his purported attempt at destroying the cult of their gods. In fact Abramane is in love with Amélite, presumptive heiress to the throne of Bactria, and wants to marry her in order to rule over the kingdom of Bactria. Amélite, however, loves Zoroastre, the teacher of the wise magi, and is loved by him. The people of Bactria, urged by Abramane, have exiled Zoroastre.
At the beginning of the second act, we find Zoroastre in the palace of Oromases, king of the Genii, where he has taken refuge in his exile. He laments his separation from Amélite in the Air. 
Performed for the first time on 29 February 1748, Zaïs, a heroic ballet in four acts and a prologue, enjoyed a successful run of 36 consecutive performances and was revived twice for another fifty performances. At the première Jélyotte took the title-rôle.
Zaïs, the genius of the Airs, is in love with Zélidie a simple shepherdess. Disguised as a shepherd he declares his love to her and she falls in love with him. Zaïs wants to test Zélidie's love to see if she really loves him as profoundly as he loves her. At the beginning of the second act, Zaïs is in his palace and holds in his hand a magical flower bouquet that will make every wish come true that the person holding it makes. He sings the Air. Zaïs hands the magic bouquet to Cindor, his confidant, and enjoins him to pretend to be the genius of the Air and to court Zélidie. Ignoring Cindor's objections, Zaïs orders the Zephyr winds to carry Zélidie to his palace and bring her before Cindor. 
Neptune calls for a sea tempest to engulf his rivals. After revealing his true identity and his love to Naïs, Neptune invites her into his palace. The sea divinities offer them an entertainment during which Neptune sings the ariette. 
Platée's prologue is entitled La Naissance de la comédie (The Birth of Comedy). It was considered a gem right from its première and was performed alone for almost twenty years beyond the last performance of the opera it introduces. In fact the prologue of Platée was paired in 1754 with a revival of Rousseau's Le Devin du village.
The action takes places in a vineyard in Greece. There are several alleys of tall trees which provide support for vine trellises. It is harvest time and Thespis, the creator of comedy, is asleep while the wine harvesters are busy carrying grapes to the presses. A satyr with the help of the harvesters tries to wake him up so he can glorify Bacchus, the god of Wwne. Thespis is none too pleased to be woken up but finally rallies and sings a light song (Ariette un peu légère) in praise of Bacchus as god of…mockery. 
Sung texts with English translations are available at www.naxos.com/libretti/557993.htm
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RAMEAU: Operatic Arias for Haute-contre