Christophe Rousset on Lully's Armide



Opéra National de Lorraine celebrates the 300th anniversary of the death of Louis XIV with a new production of Jean-Baptiste Lully's last masterpiece and his spiritual testament, Armide. The opera was staged in Nancy until 30 June 2015. Conductor Christophe Rousset, a great connoisseur of Lully, who conducted the orchestra talked with Franco Soda in Nancy on Armide and the production.
Why did you choose the opera Armide to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the death of Louis XIV?
I had to choose one...

Which title would you have chosen then?
All the works of Lully are fantastic. On my list there is Isis which is little known and even Alceste: Alceste is a beautiful story! Libretto is fantastic, as well as the music is beautiful... Maybe it would be the next opera to be done also in scenic form. Actually Armide was a choice of the Opéra de Nancy. I was pleased because it is one of the two or three works of Lully that I had still not conducted except for a part of the tunes that we recorded with Véronique Gens in CD “Tragediennes 1”. Besides, as it is Lully’s masterpiece, I kept to myself end of the integral recording which I do intend to accomplish because all Lully’s works are exceptional. When I received this offer, I was honored and happy to find out the score from inside. It is a wonderful score: it is musically a masterpiece where Lully brought all his genius and his experience on stage. I would say that perhaps its libretto is not among the best. There are some weaknesses especially in the fourth act which is perhaps a bit out of the action but the main theatrical musical level is high: every musical moment is a marvel.
Why did you wish to wait any longer before to conduct Armide?
Because it is better to gain experience and then to give the best as it is in reality the last work of Lully: his last Tragédie Lyrique. In fact there is another one but it is unfinished. So being Lully’s last one, I wanted to do it well, because I consider it the most complete, the most successful. Moreover, having been done by others before me, I wanted to be at the level of the others.
What is the importance of Armide in Lullys catalog but also for the French composers of the XVIIIth century?
As I said earlier, in my opinion, Armide is the most complete and most beautiful opera of the composer. Indeed Lully, when he composed Armide, was disgraced against the King Louis XIV: He was not anymore a King’s protegée as Lully had gone a bit over, past the limit in his private life. To this the King not protecting him more. This unexpected misfortune was a shock, very strong for the composer that he had hoped to return to the good graces of the sovereign. This is because Armide is a concentration of Lully’s genius: he does his best in hopes of recovering the power that would be derived him from royal protection. Besides Armide was inexhaustible source of inspiration to other composers: Many songs transcribed for harpsichord and other instruments. Jean-Philippe Rameau knew it definitely: in fact he also analyzes the great monologue of Armide in his treatise on harmony... He even used many Lully’s ideas. For example, in the scene of hate, to give the instability of the underworld, Lully uses a polyrhythm that Rameau reuses in his opera Castor et Pollux in the underworld scene to give some displacement: Lully then opened a genre like other musical topos (tenderness, horror, hell). There is a lot of Lully, of Armide in particular, in the only Jean-Marie Leclair’s operatic work Scylla et Glaucus… For sure Armide has influenced all the XVIIIth century.
Did Lully managed to regain the favor of the King thanks to Armide? What was the link between Louis XIV and Lully?
No, he did not achieve his goal. It was even more difficult because Louis XIV was under the influence of Madame de Maintenon who was very strict. She was closed at that element of play that had bound the sovereign to the composer. Indeed, Lully had danced the King when he was young. Lully created the image of Roi soleil: image that comes from a ballet where Lully had to appear on stage as the King Apollo (Sun)... And then this image of Roi Soleil was revived later by political and propaganda real, but it was Lully’s idea at very first. So there was a very strong bond that had united them together in the past. But this playful fun was forgotten because the King did not dance any more getting older, and the influence of Madame de Maintenon certainly was the last locked door, slammed on Lully’s face.

Jean-Baptiste Lully
Tragedies en musique en 5 actes avec prologue
Booklet de Philippe Quinault
Académie Royale de Musique de Paris, February 15th, 1686
Opéra national de Lorraine and CCN - Ballet de Lorraine
June 21, 2015
June 24, 2015
June 26 2015
June 28, 2015
June 30, 2015
Conductor: Christophe Rousset
Direction: David Hermann
Choreography: Petter Jacobsson and Thomas Caley
Decor and video: Jo Schramm
Costume: Patrick Dutertre
Lighting design: Fabrice Kebour
Armide | Marie-Adeline Henry
Renaud | Julian Pregardien
Phénice, la Gloire, Mélisse | Judith van Wanroij
La Sagesse, Sidonie, Lucinde | Marie-Claude Chappuis
Hidraot | Andrew Schroeder
Aronte, la Haine | Marc Mauillon
Ubalde | Julien Véronèse
Artémidore | Patrick Kabongo
Le Chevalier Danois, Un Amant Fortuné | Fernando Guimaraes
Une nymphe des eaux | Hasnaa Bennani
Chœur de l'Opéra national de Lorraine
Les Talens Lyriques
Centre Chorégraphique National – Ballet de Lorraine




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