After Thésée, your intention is to mount Psyché, a subtle and richly inventive work.
How will you define your role in working with Jean-Marie Villégier?
Psyché is a very interesting example. Molière had already written his play when Lully decided to rework it as a tragédie lyrique, thus a basically theathrical work is given the musical form of a divertissement. Lully’s work molds the original text to the form of a recitative. Our idea is to choose the richest of the recitatives and of its musical splendor. We will assemble a little group of two or three singers whose expression will be concentrated upon the expressiveness of the texts about love.
You have an exceptionally eloquent and sensitive approach to Rameau. Pastoral, exceptional instrumental sensitivity, never decorative because, peculiar to France, the essential lies on the surface.
Yes, Rameau introduced a new sensitivity. He illustrates a totally different reality from that of the Lully/Quinault duo. The fragile balance between words and music is destroyed, acknowledging the tyranny of the composer over them. It was his habit to choose authors who were already out of fashion, of leser literary quality. All this is therefore utterly different to Charpentier, who worked with Molière and Pierre Corneille, that is to say, the greatest writers of his time.
Rameau seeks out a different balance, one where the music rather than the text reveals the deeper sense of the plot. In Hippolyte et Aricie, for example, why are we so struck by the role of Aricie? Less as a result of the text than thanks to the music, the richness of the little, unforgettable melodic figures which make up the airs. In fact, I rarely remember the words of the text, quite different from my recollection of Quinault’s librettos for the operas of Lully. Everything is revealed by the orchestra. What dominates in Rameau, obviously, is the divertissement. He is the greatest composer of ballet music before Stravinsky. To a large extent this is thanks to his particularly brilliant orchestration. One finds an endless fund of varied dances. Take, for example, the dance of the sailors in Hippolyte, not to speak of the uninterrupted display produced by the wizardry of Les Indes Galantes: a palette of infinite colors and rhythms reigns.
The writing for woodwind reveals Rameau’s virtuosity in this realm. It is true that Lully liked the dance, but this scope is more limited. A brilliant aesthetic mastery flows from Rameau’s operas. I could cite as a particular example the Trio des Parques in Hippolyte: its beauty is equaled by its audacity.
Now let’s consider the eighteenth century. You were the pioneer—followed by Christophe Rousset and soon afterward Mark Minkowski—who revealed the indescribable depths and mystical outpouring in Mondonville’s work. The richness of his Grands Motets are surely typical of his great qualities as a sacred composer?
Yes indeed, I believe that Mondonville is a good example of the rediscoveries which are such a surprise to everyone.