RAMEAU Le Temple de la Gloire (McGegan)
Le Temple de la Gloire is an opéra-ballet to a libretto by Voltaire, first performed at Versailles on November 27, 1745. Like Les fêtes de Polymnie, staged at the Paris Opéra the previous month, it was a celebration of Louis XV’s victory at the battle of Fontenoy. A revised version was staged in 1746; what we have here is a reconstruction of the original, based on a manuscript owned by the University of California at Berkeley, where the recording was made.
In the Prologue, Envy attacks the Temple of Glory, only to be defeated and chained up by forces led by Apollo. Three acts follow. In the first, king Bélus is turned away from the temple on account of his cruelty; the second act sees Bacchus also denied admission. Only the emperor Trajan is rewarded, for his magnanimity in battle; and he asks La Gloire to turn the Temple of Glory into a Temple of Happiness. A downbeat way of honouring a victorious monarch, and it’s not surprising that Louis is said to have treated Voltaire with a certain froideur.
The score comprises the usual mixture of solos, choruses and dances. It is not, I would say, vintage Rameau: too many numbers in triple time makes for monotony. The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan play beautifully; the dancers are surprisingly quiet, but there is much applause. Some of the solo singing is, frankly, disappointing. The baritone Marc Labonnette makes little of Envy’s opening ‘Profonds abîmes de Ténare’. As Bacchus, Artavazd Sargsyan makes brave attempts at top D and C (sounding a semitone lower), but he sounds strained. So does Aaron Sheehan as Apollo; he is in much better voice as Trajan. The sopranos, led by Chantal Santon-Jeffery and Gabrielle Philiponet, are fine.
The printed libretto and translation shows a lack of care: words differ from what is sung, lines are missing. And, even if Envy was performed in drag, the translation shouldn’t refer to him as ‘she’ when the French pronoun is masculine. The booklet includes production photos showing the characters dressed in sumptuous 18th-century costumes: a DVD would have been splendid.