University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Leclair: Scylla et Glaucus

05/20/2018 1:00 pm
05/20/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

If he had written more than one single opera Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764) might have become as famous in the history of French opera as his contemporary Jean-Philippe Rameau. Leclair failed to capitalize on the success of his Scylla et Glaucus (1746) by composing another similar work in the form of the French tragédie en musique. In the 1740s this lyric theater artform, created in the seventeenth century by Lully, was in the period of its final full flowering. Leclair was a virtuoso violinist who wrote mostly instrumental music. His orchestration for Scylla et Glaucus is even more colorful and inventive than anything by Rameau. Dance sequences were always important in French opera. Scylla et Glaucus is unequalled in its instrumental dance numbers. Leclair's writing for voice in French language is also beyond compare. Yet the French baroque tragédie lyrique went out of fashion within a few years and Leclair's singular opera passed into oblivion.

Two centuries and more later in 1986, Scylla et Glaucus was revived in staged production by Opera de Lyon. (Lyon was the city of Leclair's birth.) In the subsequent recording sessions of this remarkable opera in London it was that pioneer in baroque performance practice John Eliot Gardiner who was conducting his own Monteverdi Choir and the period instrument group the English Baroque Soloists, with an international cast of vocal soloists trained in baroque singing style. The French Erato label released Scylla et Glaucus in 1988 on three compact discs. I broadcast the Erato release on Sunday, May 12, 1991.

Baroque performance practice has gotten even better among a later generation of musicians following in Gardiner's footsteps. Listen this Sunday for Leclair's masterpiece as recorded in 2014 in the opera house of Versailles palace, with Sebastien d'Hérin directing the singers and players of Les Nouveaux Caractères. A different French label, Alpha Classics came out with this new recording of Scylla et Glaucus in 2015, again on three silver discs.