University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Rameau: Le Temple de la Gloire

01/23/2022 1:00 pm
01/23/2022 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) is the greatest composer of the French baroque, the greatest musical theorist of his day, and a prolific composer of opera later in his career. He should rank alongside Bach and Handel in the pantheon of eighteenth-century composers. Only in the past few decades of the later twentieth and the early twenty-first century have Rameau's numerous lyric theater works received definitive recordings in historically-informed performance practice. I have broadcast as many of those recordings as I have come across.

Le Temple de la Gloire (1745) was the first one I ever broadcast way back on Sunday, December 11, 1983. Rameau collaborated with the greatest literary figure of the age: Voltaire, who was the librettist for "The Temple of Glory," which was commissioned to celebrate the French victory in the War of the Austrian Succession. In its purpose it parallels Handel's Occasional Oratorio of 1746, a similar celebratory piece for an English military victory. Rameau's "Glory" opera must have been a grand and glorious spectacle indeed when it was first staged privately for king Louis XV at Versailles, but at the public theater in Paris it was a flop because Voltaire's libretto, while it was full of high-minded allegory and praise for the monarch (who actually didn't like its preachy implications), it had no love interest. Even when reworked with a more amorous subplot, it still did not meet with the public's favor.

In my first broadcast of Le Temple de la Gloire I drew upon a 1982 CBS Masterworks release of this French opera-ballet as interpreted by one of the pioneering figures in period instrument performance, Jean-Claude Malgloire, who led his own ensemble La Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy. That recording has many cuts to Rameau's score, perhaps to accommodate it on two stereo LPs. Then along came a much more complete recording of something resembling the 1746 revision of the opera, made in 2013 under the auspices of the Center for Baroque Music at Versailles. Guy van Waas directed a Belgian period instrument group called Les Agrémens, with the Chamber Chorus of Namur. I broadcast the 2016 Ricercar release of "Temple of Glory" not long ago on Sunday, April 15, 2018.

Normally I would not program the same opera again for at least five years, but I do so now after about three because a remarkable American recording of "Glory" has come into my hands. Recorded live in performance in 2017, it documents a staged production given in Zellerbach Hall at UCal Berkeley. Another pioneer in period practice, the Brit, Nicolas McGegan, directs the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, the preeminent musical organization of its kind on the West Coast. This organization has its own proprietary label, through which Le Temple de la Gloire was issued on two compact discs. I wrote this program note for an intended broadcast on Sunday, April 26, 2020, but the Covid shutdown on the UHA campus prevented that.