Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Drame héroïque en cinq actes
sur un livret de Philippe Quinault
créé le 23 septembre 1777 à l’Académie royale de musique, à Paris
Mise en scène Lilo Baur
Décors Bruno de Lavenère
Costumes Alain Blanchot
Armide Véronique Gens
Renaud Ian Bostridge
Hidraot Jean-Sébastien Bou
La Haine Anaïk More
Aronte/Ubalde Philippe Estèphe
Artémidore/Le Chevalier danois Enguerrand de Hys
Sidonie/Mélisse/Plaisir et Naïade Florie Valiquette
Phénice/Lucinde/Bergère Apolline Rai-Westphal
Choeur Les Éléments (dir. Joël Suhubiette)
Les Talens Lyriques
Direction Christophe Rousset
Nouvelle production Opéra Comique
The German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) is without a doubt one of the most important reformers of eighteenth-century opera. He was able to revolutionize both European models of this genre: the Metastasian opera seria and the French lyric tragedy.
When Gluck composed Armide, he was flush with his Viennese masterpieces (Orfeo ed Euridice in 1762 then Alceste in 1767), and with his Parisian ones (Iphigénie en Aulide in 1774 and the French versions of those two Viennese operas in 1774 and 1776). Armide, a five-act heroic drama, premiered at the Royal Academy of Music on 23 September 1777, using Philippe Quinault’s famous libretto, which was written for Lully almost a century earlier.
With this bold libretto choice and support from the queen Marie-Antoinette (who had been his pupil in Vienna), Gluck set out to work within tradition while simultaneously measuring himself against the genre’s founding master. Gluck intended to overhaul the old lyric tragedy genre and satisfy the audience’s new expectations, which the Querelle des Bouffons had recently laid bare.
This piece put Armide and Renaud’s story to music yet again; although inspired by Torquato Tasso’s La Gerusalemme liberata, the writing is motivated by a new kind of expressivity and revealing of emotions. The melodic lines are clean, and the orchestra is transformed into a veritable protagonist, with rich and contrasting instrumental colours. This work elicits a lot of praise but also sharp critiques, putting it right at the heart of a new aesthetic quarrel that pits Gluckists against Piccinnists. All told, the composer reaches the height of his art in this piece. In 1776, he writes to Du Roullet, “I tried to be more of a painter and poet than a musician this time; I must confess that I’d like to end my career with this opera,” a description that anticipates Romantism and one of Gluck’s most ardent admirers, Hector Berlioz.
“Gluck’s Armide, an extraordinary and highly ambitious work, rests essentially on the shoulders of the main character, portrayed by the great Véronique Gens. With Les Talens Lyriques we have performed many versions of Armide (those of Jommelli, Händel, Salieri, Lully…). Finding the same libretto with completely different music is fascinating – and sometimes almost disconcerting.
Lilo Baur’s staging promises to be enchanting; I’m delighted to be working with her, and also very happy to be back at the Opéra Comique. This is truly one of this season’s most exciting projects! ”
– Christophe Rousset