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The Sunday Opera: Jean Phillippe Rameau's "Les fetes d'Hebe"

The second “dance opera” of Jean Phillippe Rameau is the centerpiece of this week’s Sunday Opera (1/7 3:00 p.m.) in an excellent recording from 2022. The opera is “Les fetes d’Hebe, ou Les talens lyriques” (“The Festivities of Hebe, or The Lyric Talents”) which had it’s premier on the 21st of May 1739.

The opera was well received initially (except for the second act which was rewritten), and it was shown 80 times during its first year and follows the standard form of many operas of this time – there is a prologue followed by three acts.

 The prologue finds Hebe (the goddess of youth and the prime of life) being pursued by Momus (a hyper-critical and satirical, in all the worst ways, god). Cupid persuades Hebe to come away to escape Momus’s advances to the banks of the Siene where they witness three “pageants” showing the triumph of poetry, music, and dance.

The cast includes Olivia Doray, Chantal Santon Jeffery, Mathias Vidal, Lorant Najbauer, Marie Prebost, Judith van Wanforij, David Witczak, Philippe Estephe, and Reinoud Van Mechelen. Gyorgy Vashegyi conducts the Purcell Choir and the Orfeo Orchestra. 

A wonderful aspect of this recording is that they’ve included the initial version of that ill-fated second act which seems to have received the negative criticism because of the weak libretto and character development by librettist Antoine Gautier de Montdorge who’s inexperience seems evident.

After the opera, we’re turning to a composer with whom you may not be familiar in his classical guise and a ballet he wrote when he was 19 for Diaghilev.

You might know songs like “Taking a Chance on Love,” “April in Paris,” and “Autumn in New York,” but you might not know that they were written by Russian émigré Vladimir Aleksandrovich Dukelsky. Of course, we know him as Vernon Duke, but it’s wonderful that we’re finally getting to hear some of the pieces written by this classical composer, trained at the Kiev Conservatory. 

The ballet is “Zephyr et Flore” and is performed here by the Residentie Orchestra The Hague with Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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