Dardanus comes in two very different versions. This recording is of the second, staged in 1744 and revived in 1760. The first version of 1739 was criticised for various absurdities in the plot. It contains much excellent music, however, as can be heard on Marc Minkowski’s recording.
The opera is set in ancient Phrygia. Dardanus, son of Jupiter, is in love with Iphise – daughter of his enemy, king Teucer – and she with him, though neither is aware of the other’s feelings. Teucer plans to marry his daughter to Antenor, his new ally. Dardanus consults the magician, Ismenor, who gives him a magic wand. Disguised as Ismenor, Dardanus is visited first by Antenor, then by Iphise, who confesses her love. Dardanus reveals his identity; Iphise flees. Captured in battle, Dardanus lies in prison. He learns that he will be rescued but his saviour will die. Iphise has a narrow escape and it’s Antenor, already mortally wounded by Dardanus’s soldiers, who is the victim. Teucer is won over, and all ends happily.
After a Prologue for Venus and Cupid, the latter ushering in the story of a warrior ‘enslaved in my court’, Iphise is discovered alone. Like Ilia in Idomeneo, she is lamenting her love for an enemy. ‘Cesse, cruel Amour’ is a sarabande, washed by gentle flutes; but Gaëlle Arquez’s Iphise is no shrinking violet and her air comes across as a demand rather than a prayer. She is similarly outgoing in ‘O jour affreux!’, the first number in Act 3. Equally accomplished is Sabine Devieilhe, the star of the Rameau anthology that I reviewed recently (Erato, 2/14). In the Phrygian Woman’s ‘Volez, Plaisirs, volez’ she leaps an octave to a ravishingly delicate top D (sounding a tone lower). There’s some good blustering from Benoît Arnould’s Antenor and Alain Buet’s Teucer, and João Fernandes is suitably cavernous as Ismenor. One of the highlights is Dardanus’s ‘Lieux funestes’, with its mournful bassoons. Bernard Richter delivers it with feeling; elsewhere he tends to bleat when singing loud.
The booklet could be much better. No information is given about the performers and the photographs are unidentified. The articles are well translated by Mary Pardoe but another hand has evidently been at the libretto: ‘Continue, superb victor, insult to my reversals’ is but one of many bêtises. But, to end on a positive note, Raphaël Pichon and the Ensemble Pygmalion are excellent. You will need both this and the Minkowski.