Monday, January 17, 2011

Gluck - Armide - Minkowski, Les Musiciens du Louvre







To modern music lovers, Gluck is best-known for his Orpheus and Euridice and, to a lesser extent, for Alceste. But he was also the composer of other operas which deserve to be remembered. Among these operas is Armide, which Gluck An illustration for the title page of the 1774...composed in 1777 for the Paris Opera. (By that time, he had revised his earlier versions of Orpheus and Alceste for staging in Paris.) In setting Armide, Gluck took the liberetto written by Phillipe Quinault which had been used by the great French composer Lully in his opera, Armide, presented in 1686. Thus, Gluck was deliberately setting himself in competition with the earlier master. After Gluck's opera, other composers have set the Armide story, including Haydn in an opera and Brahms in a cantata, Renaldo.

This CD of Armide features the musicians of the Louvre conducted by Marc Minkowski and a distinguished cast of singers. Mr. Minkowski specializes in early music with an emphasis on scores and composers that have not received the attention they deserve. We are fortunate to have CD's readily accessible to explore Gluck's Armide. The work comes through in this release with intensity and passion.

Armide is a story of the power of love and of the war between love and hate. The heroine, Armide, is a sorceress who has just defeated an army of Christian crusaders. She values her freedom and declines to marry unless to a man who can defeat the crusader's hero, Renauld. In the course of the story, Armide casts a spell on Renauld to make him, for a time, love her. But, unfortunately for Armide, she falls in love with Renauld totally and unconditionally. Renauld is ultimately rescued and abandons Armide who bewails her loss mightily and destroys the magic palace she had built for herself and Renaud.

Gluck was known for attempting to integrate text and music into an artistic whole rather than for indulging in lengthy musical flourishes for their own sake. In Armide, he carries out his artistic programme in part. But there are long sections of dances, musical interludes, and scenes that have little dramatic intensity and which run counter to Gluck's austure style of composition. This is probably due in part to Gluck's decision to use, without editing, the early liberetto by Quinault which had been adopted to the different compositional style of Lully. (In the years between Lully and Gluck, some composers had tried to eliminate various portions of Quinault's text to speed-up the action. But Gluck took the original liberetto.)

Gluck's Armide is not often performed today, but it is a treasure. The heroine, Armide, is a great multi-faceted role with arias expressing the extremes of passionate love and deep hatred. The role is beautifully performed on this CD by Mirelle Dellunsch. There is a character in the opera titled "hate", -- hate personified with lengthy arias worthy of the Queen of the Night -- performed guttily and intensely by Ewa Poodles. Charles Workman is an effective Renauld, but this music belongs to the women leads.

The first and fifth acts of Gluck's Armide move with swift intensity while some of the more relaxed material is in act two and, particularly, in act four. For me, the most powerful musical moment of this score comes at the end of the opera in Armide's aria "La Perfide Renaud" which shows her fury at her abandonment by Renaud. Also in Act 5 is a beautiful duet between Armide and Renauld and an "Air Sicilien" featuring the solo flute. The scenes with Hate are stunning.

Gluck's Armide is a grand opera by a great composer. It will delight listeners willing to be adventurous as well as lovers of opera, early classical music, and passionate music. It is a joy to have this work available. 


ape, scans


  1. Unfortunately, Part 1 is missing.

  2. yes indeed - could you kindly supply the first part, one cannot assemble the others without it.... herbert


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