Phaéton: Jean-Baptiste Lully (1683)

Lully: Phaéton

★★★½

(Opéra Royal de Versailles, 30 May 2018)

When business took me to Versailles this week, I just happened to arrive on the first night of the Opéra Royal’s new production of Lully’s Phaéton. As you know, French Baroque opera is still something of a terra incognita for me, so I decided to see if there were tickets available, and discovered a last-minute return. It would’ve been rude not to. That evening, perched in a velvet-lined box, with gold and glittering crystal overhead, I settled in for an epic four-hour tale of ambition, love and hubris. It was a steep learning curve, with marked differences from the Italian operas that I know and love, but I can’t think of a better place to experience the Sun King’s composer for the first time, and the production was blessed with a terrific performance in the title role by Mathias Vidal. So join me, as I bumble my way through this first extended encounter with Monsieur Lully…

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Giasone: Francesco Cavalli (1649)

Cavalli: Giasone

★★★½

(Opéra Royal de Versailles, 9 March 2018)

The dauntless Argonauts came to the shores of Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece, but their heroism has been put on hold. For the last year they’ve been kept kicking their heels while their leader, Jason, diverts himself with a mysterious woman. He might be thoroughly enjoying himself but, as his fellow Argonaut Hercules tells him, it’s time to move on. But Jason’s romantic adventures prove harder to shake off than he anticipates, when it transpires that his secret lover is none other than Medea, Queen of Colchis. To make matters worse, his fiancee Hypsipyle, Queen of Lemnos, has grown tired of waiting for him and is coming to fetch him home. Did I mention that Jason has also given each woman twin sons? Amidst the glitz and glitter of Versailles’s Opéra Royal, everything was about to hit the fan in a very, very Baroque fashion.

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Requiem pour les funérailles de Louis XV

Chapelle Royale, Versailles

(Chapelle Royale, Versailles, 22 June 2016)

What do the composer Jean Gilles (1668-1705), the composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) and King Louis XV (1710-1774) have in common? The answer’s an odd one: they all had the same piece of music at their funerals. This was Gilles’s Messe des Morts, which had its premiere at its composer’s own funeral and remained so popular for the next seventy years that it was reworked and adapted in numerous ways to fit the requirements of later taste.

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Catone in Utica: Leonardo Vinci (1728)

Vinci: Catone in Utica

(Opéra Royal, Versailles, 19 June 2015)

★★★

Versailles. The very name conjures up opulence and the Opéra Royal, nestled within the palace, is no exception. It’s a jewel-box of gold and crystal, festooned with chandeliers. Simply walking into our loge took my breath away, and I was glad of it. I’d waited for this night for nine months, having impulsively booked tickets three days after I first watched Artaserse. It was an expensive leap of faith. Now, tucked into the velvet-lined corner of our box with a superb view of the stage and orchestra pit (conveniently close to those fabulous horns), I was about to find out if the wait had been worthwhile.

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