About this Recording
8.660224 - REBEL, F. / FRANCOEUR, F.: Zelindor, Roi des Sylphes [Opera] / Le Trophee Suite (Fouchecourt, H.G. Murphy, Opera Lafayette, R. Brown)
English  French 

François Rebel (1701–1775) and François Francœur (1698–1787)
Zélindor, roi des Sylphes • Suite from ‘Le Trophée’

 

Zélindor, roi des Sylphes (1745)

Music by François Rebel and François Francœur
Text by François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif

Performing edition by Ryan Brown and Alexandra Eddy for Opera Lafayette
Choreography by Catherine Turocy, Artistic Director, The New York Baroque Dance Company

Zélindor, roi des Sylphes - Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Zirphé, une mortelle - Heidi Grant Murphy
Zulim, un Sylphe - William Sharp
Une Nymphe, une Sylphide - Ah Young Hong
Andrew Appel and Loretta O’Sullivan, Continuo

The Opera Lafayette Orchestra and Chorus
Ryan Brown, Conductor and Artistic Director

Suite from ‘Le Trophée’ (1745)

Music by François Rebel and François Francœur
Text by François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif

La Muse - Heidi Grant Murphy
Le Génie - Jean-Paul Fouchécourt

The Opera Lafayette Orchestra
Ryan Brown, Conductor

 

The divertissement, Zélindor, roi des Sylphes (Zélindor, King of the Sylphs) was commissioned as part of the entertainment which King Louis XV provided to his court in Versailles during the winter season. Although Louis XV did not care much for music—he preferred light comedy—he felt duty bound to follow the tradition established by his great-grandfather, Louis XIV, the Sun King, of offering lavish musical entertainments.

The poem was written by François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif (1687–1770) and the music by François Rebel and François Francœur. It was first performed before the king and his court on Wednesday, 17 March 1745 and repeated a week later on 24 March 1745. Such was the success of this ballet that it was used for the celebrations of the victory of Fontenoy at the Paris Opéra on 10 August 1745, preceded by a Prologue, called Le Trophée (The Trophy), in praise of the victorious Louis XV. Zélindor then played thirty times at the Paris Opéra between 1746 and 1753 and again for a run of 32 uninterrupted performances between 17 June and 31 August 1766.

1745 was not only the year of the great victories of France in the wars of the Austrian Succession, it was also the year King Louis XV met Madame d’Etiolles who became his new mistress (11 February 1745). She was invited to the great ball at Versailles on 24 February for the wedding of the Dauphin Louis with the Infanta Maria-Theresa of Spain and, on 9 July 1745, Madame d’Etiolles was made Marquise de Pompadour. Madame de Pompadour was officially presented to court on 14 September 1745. From then until her death on 15 April 1764, she became a force to be reckoned with, particularly in the domain of the arts.

Madame de Pompadour had a small theatre built first in Versailles and then at her castle of Bellevue. There, she and a few courtiers would perform light comedies and ballets to entertain the king and a few selected friends. At Bellevue, on 4 and 6 March 1753, she performed the rôle of Zélindor. This is not the only instance of private performances of Zélindor, roi des Sylphes. In December 1747, it was performed for the Duchesse du Maine in her château at Sceaux. There, the rôle of Zirphé was sung by Madame du Châtelet, who, with her lover, Voltaire, was a guest of the Duchesse. Voltaire much admired the poem of Moncrif and would often address the poet as “mon très aimable Zélindor” or “mon cher sylphe”. In fact, in the summer of 1748, Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet organized a performance of this ballet in Commercy to entertain the court of Stanislas, the father-in-law of King Louis XV. Further testament to Zélindor’s success is the fact that it was translated into Italian and performed at the court of Parma on 18 December 1752.

While Zélindor was considered by d’Alembert to be one of the most successful ballets to have graced the Paris Opéra stage, it does not seem to have been revived since the end of the eighteenth century. The present performance is a modern première of the work.

The poet François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif was born in Paris in 1687 into a modest family of Scottish origin. He lost his father when he was very young. His mother provided an excellent education for him and his younger brother to enable them to obtain a position that would give them security. Moncrif became an excellent swordsman, which brought him in contact with the sons of noble families. His wit, his writing talent, and his very personable attitude made him appreciated by friends in high places.

By 1722, Moncrif had become secretary of the Marquis d’Argenson, whom King Louis XV appointed State Councillor in 1724 and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1744. Through the Marquis d’Argenson, Moncrif met Voltaire and befriended him. In 1731, he joined the household of the Comte de Clermont, son of Louise-Françoise de Bourbon, daughter of King Louis XIV. With such powerful patrons he was elected to the French Academy on 5 December 1733. Shortly before his election, Moncrif produced a heroic ballet for the Paris Opera L’Empire de l’amour (The Realm of Love) to music by the chevalier de Brassac. It was staged on 14 April 1733 with moderate success.

For the opening of the second season of Madame de Pompadour’s little theatre in Versailles, on 20 December 1747, Moncrif was asked to write the dedicatory poem to the king that was customarily recited before the first performance (much as, nowadays, the national anthem is played on opening nights). Instead of writing a poem, Moncrif wrote a little theatre scene in which an actor suddenly appears before the public, silences the orchestra musicians as they are tuning their instruments, calls for the director of the troupe, Mr. de la Vallière, to appear in all haste and then reminds him that “an enchanting speech to the King is expected of him”, whereupon Mr. de la Vallière turns around and, addressing the King, says:

Le désir de briller n’a rien qui nous inspire;
Ici, nous pouvons tous le dire,
Le zèle et les talents sont l’ouvrage du cœur.

(The desire to shine is not our motivation;
Here, we can all admit it,
Our zeal and our talents come from our hearts.)

This personable compliment to the King, in lieu of the more formal and pompous dedicatory poems, was much appreciated and is a perfect illustration of Moncrif’s gift of ingratiating himself with just the right words for each person.

Some consider verse and songwriting to have been Moncrif’s greatest talents: Les Ames rivales (The Rival Souls), Alidor et Thersandre, Les Voyageuses (The Traveling Ladies), Le Rajeunissement inutile (The Useless Rejuvenation). He died on 19 November 1770, aged 83. His epitaph, written by La Place reads:

Avec des mœurs dignes de l’Age d’Or
Il fut un ami sûr, un auteur agréable ;
Il mourut vieux comme Nestor,
Mais il fut moins bavard, et beaucoup plus aimable.
(His morals were worthy of the Golden Age
He was a trusted friend, a pleasant writer;
He died an old man like Nestor
But he was less talkative, and much nicer.)

The composer François Rebel, the eldest son of Jean-Féry Rebel, was born in Paris on 19 June 1701. A gifted violinist, he entered the Paris Opéra orchestra in 1714. In 1723 he travelled to Vienna and Prague in the retinue of General Bonneval with his friend François Francœur to attend the coronation of Emperor Charles VI as King of Bohemia. They were present at the performance of Johann Joseph Fux’s opera Costanza e Fortezza (Patience and Fortitude) which was performed for this occasion in the Prague castle in a most sumptuous and spectacular manner.

François Francœur, the son of Joseph Francœur, bass violinist and member of the 24 Violons du Roi (the elite string orchestra of Versailles), was born in Paris on 21 September 1698. At the age of twelve he joined the Paris Opéra orchestra. There he met François Rebel, his junior of three years, when the latter joined the orchestra in 1714. In 1721 he published his first book of sonatas for the violin. Their trip to Vienna and Prague sealed the friendship of the two composers whose professional lives were indissolubly linked for the next 49 years. In 1726, Rebel and Francœur composed together their first tragédie en musique, Pyrame et Thisbé. Because they were so young, this work became known as “L’Opéra des enfants” (The Children’s Opera). In 1727 Francœur became compositeur de la chambre du roi. The following year, Rebel and Francœur produced their second tragédie en musique at the Paris Opéra, Tarsis et Zélie. In 1729 Francœur was admitted to the royal military orders of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Lazare of Jerusalem, an honour rarely ever bestowed on a musician. In 1730 he became a member of the 24 Violons du Roi alongside his father and his brother. Around that time he published his second book of sonatas for the violin.

The 1730s were difficult years for Rebel and Francœur. In December 1730 Francœur’s reputation was tainted by an affair of “stolen” jewels given by a rich admirer to Mlle Pélissier, one of the great divas of the Paris Opéra. He also married a daughter of the celebrated actress, Adrienne Lecouvreur, which ended in bitter legal wrangling in 1746. In 1733 Rebel married the daughter of the celebrated dancer Françoise Prévost, but she died prematurely. In 1735 Rebel and Francœur’s third tragédie en musique, Scanderberg, had little success, and their Ballet de la Paix of 1738 was also poorly received. In December 1734, however, Rebel was appointed head of the Concert Spirituel and in 1739 Francœur was appointed Maître de Musique at the Paris Opéra.

Rebel and Francœur were appointed inspecteurs musicaux (musical directors) of the Paris Opéra from 1743 to 1753. On 27 February 1744, Francœur became surintendant of the royal chamber music, succeeding Collin de Blamont. On 14 November 1744 Rebel and Francœur celebrated the return to Paris of King Louis XV, who had fallen gravely ill in August in Metz, with two divertissements, Le Retour du Roi and Les Augustales. The following year, Rebel and Francœur composed Zélindor, Roi des Sylphes, and Le Trophée, followed by several more works for Versailles, La Félicité, Ismène, and Le Prince de Noisy.

In 1753 Francœur retired from the Opéra with a pension, and in 1756 freed himself of the court responsibilities of surintendant of the royal chamber music to accept, with Rebel, the joint directorship of the Opéra for a period of thirty years starting on 1 April 1757. Rebel and Francœur faced a great number of difficulties: a large deficit, lack of discipline, the controversy between partisans of Italian operas and partisans of French opera known as the Querelle des Bouffons, and as a final blow, the destruction of the Opéra by fire on 6 April 1763. They were forced to resign on 1 April 1767. King Louis XV ennobled Rebel, however, in 1760 and Francœur in May 1764. In 1772 the King asked Rebel to return to the Opéra as Administrateur général, a post he relinquished a few months before his death on 7 November 1775.

The death of Rebel was a severe blow to Francœur. He retired in 1776, selling all his charges including that of surintendant of the royal chamber music, and died at the age of 89 on 5 August 1787.

On 11 May 1745, the English army, led by the Duke of Cumberland, third son of King George II, fought a fierce battle against the French army led by the Marshal of Saxony in the presence of King Louis XV and his son, the Dauphin. After heavy fighting, the English army was routed. The battle of Fontenoy was the first great victory of the French in the war of the Austrian Succession, and was celebrated all over France. On 10 August 1745, the Paris Opéra presented a double bill of works by Rebel and Francœur, Le Trophée and Zélindor, roi des Sylphes. Le Trophée was written specifically as a prologue to Zélindor to celebrate the victory of Fontenoy.

It is not known which part of their composition was composed by Francœur and which part by Rebel. When questioned about it they would always say: “This piece is by both of us”. The eighteenth-century French musicologist and composer Jean-Benjamin de Laborde (1734–1794) claims that the more dramatic pieces were written by Rebel while Francœur composed the more lyrical ones. Whatever the case may be, the text of Zélindor fired the imagination and creativity of Rebel and Francœur. They filled their score with evocative tone paintings, touching melodies, and graceful dance tunes. No wonder that Zélindor, roi des Sylphes, was so well received by the elite at Versailles as well as by the general public at the Paris Opéra and elsewhere.

Nizam P. Kettaneh

 

Conductor’s Notes

Zélindor, roi des Sylphes is remarkable for its perfection of form and the variety of music offered within a one-act opera ballet. Among the highlights is Zélindor’s first air, comparing a mortal’s fickle nature to a breeze caressing a flower. The wind is vividly depicted and mirrors the material of the overture, which characterized the arrival of the king of the Sylphes on a cloud. The mortal Zirphé’s air has three increasingly poignant pleas to Zélindor to appear and fulfill her hopes, followed by a sudden ethereal turn to the major as she recalls a dream in which he appeared to her. The beautiful dance and chorus sequence in which nymphs come forward and retreat has within it an exquisite air danced and then sung, its subtlety set forth in the first measures by an unexpected chromatic alteration in the bass. The following recitative, mostly accompanied, becomes expressively spare when Zirphé’s desire to see her lover is realised, and the effect is mirrored when Zélindor is finally convinced of her love. A duo is followed by an instrumental prelude that recalls Le Cahos (Chaos) of Rebel père, in which the elements of earth, air, water, and fire take musical form. Then, in two subsequent dances, pairs of characters from these realms dance in alternation with each other. A virtuoso tour de force for haute-contre and chorus caps the scene, and a general ballet provides the dénouement, including a rustic bourrée notable for its unusual phrase lengths.

Our assembled suite from Le Trophée, a work which provides a contrast to Zélindor’s more subtle sentiments, offers, among other things, an Italianate overture opening with a bass line slowly descending a full octave, a delightfully straightforward ariette for soprano, a sung gavotte with an undulating bass line of startling originality, and a stentorian prelude with trumpet and drums followed by two beautifully contrasting airs and a fanfare. Opera Lafayette is pleased to have been able to present the modern première of these wonderful works, the products of Rebel and Francœur’s unusual and fruitful collaboration, in Washington in early October, 2007. It is coincidental but a sign of the simultaneity of musical discovery that a chamber version was performed at Versailles during the same month.

The source for Opera Lafayette’s editions of Zélindor and Le Trophée is the 1745 score published in association with the premières at Versailles and in Paris. We also consulted the parts from the Bibliothèque de L’Opéra, which exist for Zélindor, but not it seems for Le Trophée. In our performance of Le Trophée we found it desirable in some instances to add an inner part to fill out the harmony. For Zélindor, the historical parts revealed, in addition to the version heard here, transposed parts presumably created for the private performances presented by Madame de Pompadour, in which she herself sang the role of Zélindor, as well as a carefully written out full score which includes significant re-orchestrations and the substitution of several airs written in another, less meticulous hand. It is tempting to think that Madame de Pompadour, an unusual royal mistress for many reasons, not the least of them being that she did not hail from the aristocracy, might have been particularly fond of this work because the subject was a king of one realm falling in love with a mortal from another.

Ryan Brown

 

Synopsis

Zélindor, roi des Sylphes (1745): A divertissement in one act

As Zélindor begins, Zulim chides the King of the Sylphes for loving a mortal. Zélindor then confesses to Zulim his fear that Zirphé may not love him in return. Zulim tries to convince Zélindor of Zirphé’s love. Zirphé enters, and Zélindor uses his magic to render himself and Zulim invisible. Zirphé sings of her love for Zélindor and her desire to see him: In a dream, she saw him flying through the air and turning the rocks and the trees into singing and dancing nymphs. She wishes the dream were true. Hearing her wish, Zélindor, still invisible, orders the dream to come true. The rocks and the trees of the park become nymphs who sing and dance to entertain Zirphé. Yet Zirphé still insists on seeing Zélindor. Zélindor explains that he must remain invisible lest she lose interest in him. She protests that she will always love him, but Zélindor warns her of Fate’s decree: once she sees Zélindor, she must either marry or reject him, and she will no longer be attractive to anyone else. Zirphé remains eager nonetheless, and Zélindor appears before her. On seeing him, Zirphé loves him even more and asks him never to disappear again. Zélindor tells of his joy in her love and admits that his warning was merely a ploy to test her love. They sing of their happiness together, and Zélindor calls on all the elements to celebrate his union with Zirphé in a final ballet.

Suite from Le Trophée (1745)
Ouverture • Sarabande • Gavottes 1 and 2 • Ariette (La Muse) • Gavotte pour les Muses et les Plaisirs (Le Génie) • Viste • Prélude • Airs 1 and 2 • Fanfare

In Le Trophée, the Muse of History calls upon her sisters the Muses to raise a trophy, decked with armour and flags, in honour of a “young, intrepid, happy and glorious king” who has “affixed to his standard Fate, Pleasures, Arts and Victory”. The Muse of History is joined by the Genius of France to ask that the King be always triumphant since his victories bring peace.

 

Opera Lafayette is grateful to Mathias Auclair of the Bibliothèque de L’Opéra for his assistance in obtaining copies of the eighteenth-century parts to Zélindor, Sarah Paulu Boittin for her translations from the French, and Nizam P. Kettaneh for his historical notes, as well as to the Music Center at Strathmore, AREVA, Inc., Constellation Energy, Pernod Ricard USA, Bill and Cari Gradison, Corrick and Norma Brown, and The MARPAT Foundation for helping to make this project possible.

This recording is dedicated to the memory of Albert Fuller.


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