Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
Reinoud Van Mechelen (tenor) – Atys
Marie Lys Flore (soprano) – Sangaride
Ambroisine Bré (soprano) – Cybèle
Philippe Estèphe (baritone) – Célénus
Chœur de Chambre de Namur Chef de chœur Thibaut Lenaerts
Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
rec. 2023, L’Opéra Royal de Versailles, France
Booklet with full French text with translations in English and German
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS126 [3 CDs: 172]

The opera Atys, described as a “Tragédie in 5 acts and a prologue”, was written around 1675 by Jean-Baptiste Lully, Louis XIV’s court composer. The librettist was Philippe Quinault, who based his mythological plot on Ovid. It premiered for the royal court on 10 January 1676 at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. A public performance followed three months later in April 1676 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris. It quickly became a firm favorite of the king, who ordered subsequent performances of the opera in 1676, 1678 and 1682. Sadly, like many of Lully’s operas, it gradually vanished from view as the public began to tire of tragédie lyrique. There has been a resurgence over recent years of French baroque music, thanks partly due to a revival of the opera by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants in 1987. A review of a 2021 reissue of that recording appears on MusicWeb by Curtis Rogers. 

The plot is a classic love triangle. The goddess Cybele loves Atys. He in turn loves Sangaride, but she is betrothed to Célœnus, son of Neptune and king of Phrygia. In revenge for rejecting her advances, Cybele drives Atys mad and he murders Sangaride. Realizing the awfulness of his actions he kills himself and Cybele turns him into a tree.

Although most of the cast are unknown names to me, they are truly marvellous and bring these characters fully to life. None seems to suffer any weaknesses and they perform their roles extremely well. The French diction is natural sounding and clear. Some of them sing double or triple roles. A spot of research informed me that many are on home turf here,  having plenty of experience performing French Baroque repertoire. So, the singing is polished, idiomatic and characterful, and sounds both spontaneous and conversational. The singers blend in flawlessly with the orchestra and continuo, enhancing greatly the sonic experience.

Some of the finest singing is in the lead roles. Reinoud Van Mechelen as Atys, Ambroisine Bré as Cybèle and Marie Lys Flore in the role of Sangaride particularly stand out for their exceptional portrayals, with Ambroisine Bré, especially, bringing a natural nobility to her role. There doesn’t seem to be a weak link throughout. Any ornamentation is discreet and idiomatic. The interludes and dances have great charm. The preludes and prologues are imbued with noble refinement and the dances are elegant and sprightly with flexible rhythmic pulse.

Recordings of Lully’s Atys are relatively thin on the ground. Apart from this latest version, there’s the William Christie mentioned above and a rather more hard to come by version on the obscure Musique à la Chabotterie label conducted by Hugo Reyne. Sadly, neither I’ve heard. I’m very pleased with this latest venture. Rousset’s inspiration delivers a lively and invigorating performance. Les Talens Lyriques are exemplary for their distinctive playing and the Choeur de chambre de Namur are to be commended for their consummate musicianship, under the masterful direction of Thibaut Lenaerts. All is captured in colourful, glowing and detailed sound. The engineers have worked wonders. The lavishly illustrated booklet contains all one could ask for, with a libretto in French with English and German translations. This is Lully at his very best, where his magnificent music perfectly complements Philippe Quinault’s splendid text.

Stephen Greenbank

Help us financially by purchasing from

Presto Music

Other cast
Apolline Raï-Westphal (soprano) – Melpomène, Mélisse
Gwendoline Blondeel (soprano) – Iris, Doris
Kieran White (tenor) – Un Zéphyr, Le Sommeil
Nick Pritchard (tenor)– Morphée
Antonin Rondepierre (tenor) – Phantase
Olivier Cesarini (baritone) – Le Temps, Le fleuve Sangar, Phobétor
Romain Bockler (bass) – Idas
Vlad Crosman (bass) – Un songe funeste