can be fairly brief in welcoming the return of this old friend, a
well-established classic, now at mid-price (target price around £17.50
in the UK).
Be careful which version you buy: some dealers
still have the 2003 release at a higher price. Robert Hugill welcomed
that earlier release in terms which I can only endorse and urge you to
read - review
Just about my only grumble concerns the lack of texts for an opera that
is not exactly standard repertoire - there seems to be only one rival
recording, on DVD and blu-ray, with Christophe Rousset directing Les
Talens Lyriques (Opus Arte); the Kuijken recording on DHM which Robert
Hugill mentions seems not to have returned to the catalogue. If you
prefer the spectacle of video, I understand that the Rousset is in
‘traditional’ costume and recorded in the appropriate setting of the
Drottningholm Court Theatre.
I haven’t seen the Opus Arte recording; it has
received strong but not universal praise - reservations in some
quarters about the stylised dancing which sometimes afflicts
productions of baroque opera - but I hardly think that it could excel
the Erato reissue in any respect except the visual. Don’t be put off by
the presence of so many bass voices in the cast list - although the
Zoroastre who gives his name to the opera is indeed Zoroaster, the
founding Magi of the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, and figures as
Zarathustra in Richard Strauss’s Nietzsche-inspired tone poem, there’s
plenty of love rivalry and magic in the plot and plenty of singing from
voices and Mark Padmore’s haute-contre
(high tenor rather than counter-tenor) to
balance against them. Even the basses can be mellifluous - Nathan Berg
as the villain sounds suitably villainous, but Eric Martin Bonnet,
equally villainous as the subterranean voice of the demon Ariman,
sounds quite beautiful as Oromasès, King of the Genies. Listen to
Bonnet and Padmore together on CD1, tracks 22-24.
Mark Padmore justly heads the cast-list but there
are no vocal weaknesses in this production. As Robert Hugill rightly
says, however, it’s the sure hand of William Christie - one of my
musical heroes - and the thoughtful accompaniment of Les Arts
Florissants that hold the whole together.
If you enjoy Rameau’s better-known instrumental music and Handel’s operas, you should readily warm to this performance of Zoroastre
. Speaking of Handel, it’s William Christie’s recording of his Orlando
that gets my vote, too: Erato 2564 677430, 3 CDs, if you can find it separately, or in 6-disc set, 2564696532, with Alcina
for around £20.
Should you have any doubts and have access to the invaluable Naxos Music Library, you can try Zoroastre
there, apart from the appendix to CD3 containing the dances omitted
from the live performance and the original 1749 ending of Act V. Don’t,
however, judge the recording quality from the streamed version; as
heard on CD the sound is very good.
A strong contender at the new lower price, though
I must repeat that grumble about the lack of texts - I understand they
were included with the original release; surely it would have cost very
little extra just to reprint that booklet.