Friday, November 26, 2010

Gluck - Les Chinoises – Von Otter, Jacobs, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis







Those who know the serious operas of Gluck will be delighted by the deft comic touch he displays in this little one-act opera 'The Chinese Ladies.' The libretto by Metastasio was originally written for Antonio Caldara in 1735 and revised about twenty years later on the occasion of a festival to celebrate the Austrian imperial family's visit to the luxurious residence of Gluck's then employer, Prince Joseph Friedrich of Sachsen-Hildburghausen.
The story reflects the 18th century fashion for chinoiserie. Three bored ladies entertain themselves by acting dramatic scenes in a contest of genres: Lisinga presents a tragic scene of Andromache lamenting the death of her husband Hector; Sivene offers a pastoral playlet in which a shepherdess plays hard to get with her swain; and Tangia gives a comic song. For the revision Metastasio introduced a male character, Silango, to flirt with the ladies. He is the brother of Lisinga and has just returned from a trip to exotic far-away Europe. The introduction of this character gives Gluck the opportunity for an exceptionally beautiful tenor aria. The other three arias, all on a large scale, are also very fine. They are set in acres of 'dry' recitative, which may be problematic for those who do not know Italian as the booklet offers only a German translation.
The recording made in 1985 is excellent in every way, with lively orchestral playing, alert, involved conducting from Rene Jacobs and gorgeous singing from the three well-contrasted female artists, Anne Sofie von Otter outstanding as the tragic Andromache. Guy de Mey is a lively though very light-weight tenor. All four soloists join in the concluding danced quartet, the characters having decided that ballet is the best form of entertainment. Listeners too are sent off with a spring in their step, having been given here a real treat.


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