August 2013 sees the release of a world premiere recording of Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny’s The King and the Farmer, an 18th-century opéra-comique which foreshadows many aspects of romanticism and made Monsigny famous in France and beyond. To learn more about this masterpiece and 18th-century opéra-comique in general, check out the dedicated podcast and videos below.
Le Roi et le fermier made Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny famous in France and beyond. Set in an evocative and at times stormy Sherwood Forest it tells of a King’s encounter with a humble farmer, blending comedy with serious issues. Its numerous innovations foreshadow Romanticism, making it a milestone in operatic history, with librettist Michel-Jean Sedaine admiring Monsigny’s daring in taking “the risk of setting a new genre to music”. “This production should be noted and remembered in the annals of Versailles, for the intelligence of its staging, the beauty of its sets, and its high musical quality.” (Opéra Magazine)
Listen to the podcast ‘Ryan Brown on 18th century opéra-comique’
Also check out these videos from The King and the Farmer, live at Versailles on 5 February 2012
From Act I Storm; Dominique Labelle, Jenny; William Sharp, Richard; Yulia Van Doren, Betsy
From Act III Trio; Yulia Van Doren, Betsy; Dominique Labelle, Jenny; Delores Ziegler, La Mère
A Word from the Conductor
Opera Lafayette’s work over the last several seasons has focused in great part on the revival of 18th-century opéra-comique, and specifically the rediscovery of the works of Monsigny (Le Déserteur), Philidor (Sancho Pança), and Grétry (Le Magnifique). In choosing to present the modern premiere of Monsigny’s Le Roi et le fermier in the U.S. and in France at the Opéra Royal in Versailles, we were, as always, looking for a work of beauty and variety, but also for an opera of historical importance, and one with theatrical qualities that would be enhanced by a full staging. As an opéra-comique blending comedy with a sober treatment of serious issues, Le Roi et le fermier was a seminal prototype of the lyric drama. With a storm and a nighttime scene playing integral roles in the opera’s plot, nature takes on a dramatic role, while also providing a visually evocative backdrop for the first two acts of the story. Throughout, Monsigny’s imagination seamlessly integrates the music into Sedaine’s plot. Extraordinarily varied and fitting each situation perfectly, the music carries the story forward for the listener, and points the way to lyric drama in the future.
To our surprise, Château de Versailles was able to provide the sets from Marie Antoinette’s 1780 performances at the Théâtre de la Reine for our performances at the Opéra Royal. They were, for the first two acts, a forest scene, and for the third act, a farmhouse, or chaumiere, and we are delighted to have them represented in the booklet materials for this world premiere recording.
– Ryan Brown
About the Artists
Ryan Brown is the founder, conductor, and artistic director of Opera Lafayette. Through his work with Opera Lafayette, he has gained an international reputation for his interpretations of French opera, and in particular for his rôle in the revival of works from the eighteenth century. These performances have highlighted the various traditions of tragédie lyrique, opéra-ballet, opéra-comique, pastorale, and dramma giocoso. His performance repertoire and his discography for Naxos range from works by Gluck and Rameau to Monsigny and Grétry. He has also won praise for his revival of Félicien David’s 1862 orientalist fantasy Lalla Roukh. His interpretations of Italian works by Mozart, Haydn, Paisiello and Cimarosa have also met with great acclaim. Ryan Brown was raised in a musical family in California, and performed extensively as a violinist and chamber musician before turning his attentions to conducting. In 2012 he made his début with the Seattle Symphony and at the Opéra Royal in Versailles, and in May 2012 received La Médaille d’Or du Rayonnement Culturel from La Renaissance Française.
Opera Lafayette is an American period-instrument ensemble that specialises mainly in French baroque and classical opera, rediscovers masterpieces, and creates a recorded legacy of its work. Founded in 1995 in Washington, DC, by conductor and artistic director Ryan Brown, Opera Lafayette has earned critical acclaim and a loyal following for its performances and recordings with international singers renowned for their interpretations of baroque and classical operas. Opera Lafayette’s season includes performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and at the Rose Theater, Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. At the invitation of Château de Versailles Spectacles, Opera Lafayette made its international début at the Opéra Royal in February 2012 with the modern world première of Le Roi et le fermier. Opera Lafayette’s discography on the Naxos label has now expanded to nine releases, including Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice (2005), Sacchini’s OEdipe à Colone (2006), Rameau Operatic Arias (2007), Lully’s Armide (2008), Rebel and Francoeur’s Zélindor, roi des Sylphes (2009), Monsigny’s Le Déserteur (2010), Philidor’s Sancho Pança (2011), and Grétry’s Le Magnifique (2012).
Previous Releases featuring Opera Lafayette and Ryan Brown
Monsigny and Sedaine’s brilliant opéra-comique Le Déserteur, was an immediate and lasting success for its melodic charms and musical variety, its blend of comedy with moments of great sentiment and pathos, and its intellectual radicalism prefiguring the humanitarian ideas of the 19th century Romantics. This recording features the musical items only from this forerunner of the ‘rescue’ opera, in which the heroine Louise extricates her fiancé Alexis from prison and a death sentence. A written explanation of the action between the airs is provided in the booklet.
This recording of airs from Rameau’s heroic ballets and lyric tragedies features the renowned haute-contre Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, one of the main exponents of the French Baroque repertoire for the last decade and who, most recently, has been closely associated with Rameau’s opera Platée. In these excerpts, Rameau’s colourful palette of musical characterization traverses a wide range of emotion, from the profoundly moving Lieux funestes (Dardanus) to the witty and imaginative air Charmant Bacchus (Platée) when, for example, Rameau cleverly employs ‘drunken’ part writing under Thespis’ words “Dussé-je être mal écouté” (“Even at the risk of being misunderstood”).
Gluck’s best-known work has been part of the operatic repertory for nearly two centuries, today performed principally in the more familiar 1762 Vienna version, Orfeo ed Euridice, sung in Italian. The later Orphée et Euridice was revised (in French) and extended for Paris in 1774, with the rôle of Orphée now performed by an haut-contre, or high tenor voice. This was the most popular version of the 18th and early 19th century, but is only now receiving its full due. Other principal changes include a full-length ballet with its popular Dance of the Blessed Spirits.
André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry was the greatest French composer of opéra-comique in the eighteenth century. His librettist for Le Magnifique, Jean-Michel Sedaine, took a tale by La Fontaine and fashioned it into a compelling libretto. Grétry responded with an outstanding score, including one of the first programmatic overtures in musical history. His expressive love music, and extended preludes and postludes, add to the theatrical variety of this important and varied opera.
Armide represents the culmination of the long and fruitful career of Jean-Baptiste Lully, the most powerful musician at the court of Louis XIV and the first important composer of French opera. Though not his final composition, Armide was his last complete tragédie en musique and the last work he wrote in collaboration with librettist Philippe Quinault. It was an instant and enduring success: a crowd-pleaser at its initial production and a perennial favourite of audiences and critics in the 18th century.
International chess virtuoso François-André Danican Philidor’s fortunes as a musician at the court of Versailles were transformed when he turned his attention to the new genre of opéra-comique. Sancho Pança, gouverneur dans l’isle de Barataria derives from Cervantes’s famous novel Don Quijote, covering Sancho Panza’s adventures as governor of a fictitious island on which a succession of characters plot to cure him of his delusions of grandeur. Opera Lafayette’s production of this comedy revue is a ‘sparkle of shining surfaces’. (Washington Post)
First performed at Versailles in 1745, the opera ballet Zélindor is a delightful rococo pastorale which found favour with Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, no doubt because its story about a king who loves a commoner reflected her own situation. Opera Lafayette’s 2007 revival was hailed as “brilliant” by The Washington Post, which praised the soloists, headed by Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, and chamber chorus who “sang with a gusto matched by the orchestra’s rhythmic pungency”. This is the work’s world première recording with full orchestra and chorus.
Antonio Sacchini was one of the leading composers of Italian opera seria of the late 18th century. Oedipe à Colone, his last work, was extraordinarily successful, with regular performances at the Paris Opéra between 1787 and 1844. Based on Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus at Colonus, the second item in a trilogy that is one of the glories of Greek literature, Sacchini’s opera is notable for both its high drama and tender, moving lyricism. It was championed by Berlioz who considered it to be an inspired and even sublime work.