Mademoiselle Duval (ca.1718-1775)
Les Génies, ou les caracteres de l’amour(1736)
Marie Perbost (soprano) – Lucille, Zaïre, Isménide, Florise
Florie Valliquette (soprano) – Amour, Zamide, une Sylphide
Anna Reinhold (soprano) – La Principale Nymphe, Picaride
Etienne de Bénazé (tenor) – Léandre
Paco Garcia (tenor) – un Indien, un Sylphe
Guilhem Worms (bass-baritone) – Zoroastre, Numapire
Matthieu Walendzyk (baritone) – Zerbin, Adolphe
Cécile Achille (soprano) – l’ Africaine, une Nymphe
Choeur de L’Opéra Royal de Versailles; Ensemble Il Caravaggio/Camille Delaforge
rec. 2023, Salle des Croisades, Château de Versailles, France
Booklet and notes with full French text and English, German translations
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS121 [2 discs: 142]

According to the booklet which accompanies this excellent new release, not much is known about the life of Mademoiselle Duval. Indeed even the well-written booklet gives two sets of possible dates of her life span. (The other being 1714 to about 1769; I have used the dates noted on the inside cover). Her first name has not survived. What is known is the fact that she was a (presumably illegitimate) daughter of the Archbishop Cornelio Bentivoglio, the former Archbishop of Carthage who had been appointed as the Papal nuncio in Paris; her mother was a French dancer. Duval was accomplished as a harpsichord performer and as a singer. Her gifts as a composer must also have been well-noted because in 1736 she was honoured as only the second female composer to present a work at the Opéra in Paris (the first was Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre with her tragédie lyrique Céphale et Procris in 1694, previously released with a CD set by CVS).

Les Génies or The Elementary Geniuses is described as an Opéra-ballet; this is the opera’s premiere recording. The work has a great deal in common with Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes, which had its premiere only a year earlier; possibly the earlier opera’s runaway Parisian success provided inspiration, if not a template, for Duval to create her own opera. Duval’s music is clever, even witty at times, with the sheen of professionalism in every aspect of the score. Her vocal writing is fluid and attractive and her orchestration is piquant and inventive. Much like Rameau’s work there are three separate acts telling a different story about different forms of love. The subjects are: Act One is Indiscreet love, Act Two dwells on ambitious love, Act Three deals with violent love, and Act Four expresses a love that is light as air. The Third Act is entitled Les Salamandres ou l’amour violent. This contains the most striking music of the opera. It is also the Act which bears the strongest resemblance to Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes because it concludes with a cataclysm both dramatically and musically equivalent to the Les incas du Pérou Act of Rameau’s opera.Mlle Duval does not push the bounds of originality in the way that Rameau attempts to, but her music is decidedly well worth spending time to acquaint oneself with.

On the performance and technical side this is one of the best releases from the CDV label that I have heard in recent years. The cast is a strong one without the disappointment of voices that are too light or afflicted with insecure technique as has recently been the case with this label of late. In addition the sound is superb. The producers decided to record this opera in the much more flattering acoustic of the Salle des Croisades. While the instruments and voices have great immediacy there is enough natural ambience in the hall to provide a flattering perspective to all. Many of the other recordings from this label have been recorded in the flat, cramped acoustic of the Versailles Opera House which has led to some less than happy results in the sound department.

Among the uniformly excellent cast are Florie Valliquette revealing a more substantial lower range than I recall hearing from her in previous recordings. Marie Perbost demonstrates a soprano of expressive clarity, though once or twice the microphones disclosed traces of concerning unsteadiness in the lower reaches of her voice. Anna Reinhard contributes a zesty performance of Picaride.

Among the gentlemen of the cast Guilhem Worms is an authoritative presence as Zoroastre, while Etienne de Bénazé displays a warm, sweet-sounding tenor, although the voice is not a large one. Similarly, Paco Garcia is another light-bodied tenor with an interesting timbre, one that is well-contrasted with de Bénazé’s sound.

Camille Delaforge conducts this music with careful attention to the shifting details in Duval’s score. She brings a lovely veil of mystery to the Ritournelle of the First Act. The gavotte that of the Second Act is crisply outlined by Delaforge and her ensemble, yet the overall impression of elegance is retained, even in the stirring music of the cataclysm that concludes the Third Act. The chorus is also a major contributor and their performance is enhanced very much by the resonant sound. All in all this is one of the happiest releases I have come across from the Versailles label.

Mike Parr

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