Heroic ballet in three entries (Les Jeux Olympiques, Les Bacchanales, Les Saturnales) and a prologue, to a libretto by Jean-Louis Fuzelier, first performed in Paris in 1723
Cyrille Dubois Amintas, Eros, Tibule, a follower of Apollo
David Witczak Apollo, Alcibiades, Marc Antoine
Marie-Claude Chappuis Erato, Cleopatra
Hélène Carpentier Clio, Timée
Cécile Achille Zélide, Plautine
Gwendoline Blondeel Aspasie, Délie
Jehanne Amzal An Egyptian, a Shepherdess
La Chapelle Harmonique
Valentin Tournet Direction
Concert in French with French and English surtitles.
From the moment it was performed in July 1723, Les fêtes grecques et romaines, François Colin de Blamont’s first opera, was a success. First, because the form of the “ballet” (which would now be called “opera-ballet”), which involves telling a different story with each “entrée” (equivalent to an act), was very much à la mode. Second, because the librettist Jean-Louis Fuzelier decided to break away from mythology and instead draw inspiration from history: “In this ballet, we brought together the most famous festivals of Antiquity, those which appeared most conducive to theatre and music,” wrote the poet. “We took care to accompany these famous festivals with illustrious names and adventures.” As such, the Alcibiade made famous by Plato's dialogues stands out at the Olympic Games (First Entrée), Mark Antony and Cleopatra celebrate the Bacchanalia (Second Entrée) and the Latin poet Tibullus courts his beloved Delia at the Saturnalia. These three festivals lend a degree of variety to the work, from the tragedy of the lover abandoned at the start of the Olympic Games to the galant tone of the Saturnalia, through the obligatory airs à boire of the Bacchanalia.
The third key to success is Colin de Blamont’s music. It falls within the same Lullist tradition as that of a certain Campra. But far from limiting himself to imitation, Blamont introduces various subtleties here and there, such as an instrumental aria arranged as a trio (with two sopranos, instead of one, and two altos) and the importance given to the solo parts in dialogue with certain singers (flute, trumpet). The recitative is also interspersed with a host of melodic “short arias” that lend it a certain charm. As Benoît Dratwicki, an expert on the composer, writes: “the music of the Fêtes grecques et romaines boasts a pure and harmonious style, but is ultimately more cosmopolitan than one might think at first glance. The declamation is certainly reminiscent of Lully, but the elegant and voluble sense of melody is very much Mouret, Bertin de La Doué or Bourgeois.”
All this won the Fêtes grecques et romaines the audience’s affection, to such an extent that, in his Réflexions d’un peintre sur l’opéra, Antoine Gautier de Montdorge describes it as “one of the loveliest ballets we know. Everyone is in agreement on the merit of the poem and the music.” The work was reprised, with “great success”, at the Académie Royale de Musique in 1733 and 1734, then at Fontainebleau in 1739, then again at the Opéra in 1741, 1753, 1762 and 1770, not to mention regional performances (Troyes, Moulins, Lyon, Nantes, Rouen, Aix-en- Provence and even Brussels). As with many operas at the time, the Fêtes grecques et romaines later fell into oblivion, familiar only to specialists. Eclipsed by Lully and Rameau, two giants of the previous and subsequent generation, Colin de Blamont, like Mouret, Campra or – in another style – Rebel and Francœur, deserves to be rediscovered for his effective and endearing style, which Valentin Tournet harnesses as he conducts the Chapelle Harmonique, against a backdrop of the Paris Olympic Games!
Loïc Chahine, January 2022
With the support of ADOR - Les Amis de l'Opéra Royal
Thursday July 4th - "15 minutes with" at 7.30pm (to be confirmed)
On presentation of your ticket for that evening and subject to availability.
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