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Royal Opera of Versailles: when the ancient Olympiads inspired composers

More than a thousand! This is the number of operas that the poet and librettist Pietro Metastasio, known as the Metastasius, is said to have inspired throughout history.

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Royal Opera of Versailles: when the ancient Olympiads inspired composers

More than a thousand! This is the number of operas that the poet and librettist Pietro Metastasio, known as the Metastasius, is said to have inspired throughout history. “On average, each of his librettos served as the basis for around forty operas,” explains Christophe Rousset. Because, with him, and whatever the subject, we are always certain that on a dramaturgical level the story holds up.” The harpsichordist and founding conductor of Talens Lyriques, who will be found in Versailles in January for Atys by Lully, will also conduct L'Olimpiade by Cimarosa there in May.

If this composer is emblematic of the last period of the Neapolitan school, he is very far from being the first to have tackled this libretto by Metastase, which some consider to be one of his most accomplished. Telling the romantic rivalry of two best friends from ancient Greece, Lisidas and Megacles, against the backdrop of the Olympic Games, this story as old as time would have attracted no less than sixty different composers. From Vivaldi (whose L'Olimpiade regularly tops the bill in opera houses during the Olympic Games) to Myslivecek (composer popularized in recent months by the film Il Boemo), via Pergolèse, Hasse and even Caldara.

“With Laurent Brunner, we wanted not to take the easy route by programming yet another version of Vivaldi's L'Olimpiade, but on the contrary to take advantage of the event that the 2024 Olympic Games will be – some of which will take place at heart of the Palace of Versailles, to invite the public to rediscovery. And it seemed to us that there was a great opportunity to seize with L’Olimpiade de Cimarosa,” continues Rousset.

Because this ardent defender of the Neapolitan Baroque knows it: “Cimarosa remains best known to music lovers for his opera buffas, starting with his Secret Marriage. However, he also composed many opera seria, some of which, like this one, also prove to be of incredible virtuosity, and where the pyrotechnics sometimes compete in the same aria with real moments of grace,” argues- he. Citing as an example the magnificent duet between Megaclès and Aristaeus Megacle, O ma Speranza, which closes the first act and already evokes Mozart's Mitridates.

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To do justice to these unjustly forgotten pages, which form the bridge between Handel and the first Mozart (and whose soprano part still rises to the lower middle!), the conductor has brought together a dazzling cast. Where will shine in particular, in the role of the young Aristaeus (promised to the winner of the Games), the Spanish star Rocio Pérez, revealed as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute of Talens Lyriques, last year. But also the Canadian tenor Josh Lovell, discovered in their Ariodante a few years ago, and who will play Aristaeus' father here.

This Olimpiade will not, however, be the only work to celebrate, in music, the spirit of the Games within the castle grounds. Three weeks before the start of the equestrian events, and a month before those of modern pentathlon, which will both take place on the grounds of Versailles, Valentin Tournet will in fact exhume, still under the gold of the Royal Opera, The Greek Festivals and Romans by Colin de Blamont.

The composer, who represents the missing link between Lully and Rameau, may well be one of the fathers of French opera-ballet, he still remains largely unknown to the general public and to fans of baroque music. This “Olympic” year was therefore the opportunity or never to put him back in the spotlight. Because “if many Italian composers have used Metastase's libretto, these Fêtes by Colin de Blamont on the other hand constitute the only lyrical work in the entire French repertoire to have ever treated the subject of the Olympic Games of Antiquity,” Tournet continues. . It therefore seemed legitimate to us to breathe new life into this score which has never before been recreated or recorded in its entirety.”

The young conductor of La Chapelle Harmonique, who should record the work in February for the Château de Versailles Spectacles label (L'Olimpiade de Cimarosa by Les Talens Lyriques will also be the subject of a recording), means well do full justice. Without going so far as to recreate the dance ballets of this work, the first entry of which parades, in front of the majestic decor of the temple of Jupiter in Olympia, the winning athletes of the Games, the musician promises a concert version “staged and lightly choreographed , as we did for Les Paladins de Rameau last June. As well as a real instrumental celebration, which will not be limited to just the Vingt-Quatre Violons du Roy but will also call on “a whole range of winds and percussion, paying homage to the physicality and energy of this music.”

L’Olimpiade, May 16, and Greek and Roman Festivals, July 4, at the Royal Opera.

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