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CD booklet
Nicandro e Fileno

Fanfare
May 28, 2019

Paolo Lorenzani (1640—1713) was one of those composers who had the misfortune to emerge into the world of opera at a time when Roman composers such as Luigi Rossi and Stefano Landi were in their prime. His early career was marked as a composer of sacred music, and he soon became known for his oratorios before accepting an appointment in Sicily with the Duke of Vivonne. As it happens, his patron was also a French Bourbon official, and thus it was not unexpected that Lorenzani would gravitate towards France, which was in the throes of extending its hegemony over the Mediterranean islands. By 1678 he was ensconced at the court of Louis XIV, where he was able to obtain a position as the Queen’s music teacher. He was politically astute, and his first secular work, this short pastoral opera, was written to a text by Philippe-Julien Mancini, who was related both to the powerful Cardinal Mazarin and to his erstwhile Sicilian patron. This gave him access to the stage, and for the next several years he achieved a modest success at the French court. However, he fell afoul of Jean-Baptiste Lully, and he failed to obtain a more permanent position within the court musical hierarchy. After a stint at the Italian Theater in Paris, he returned to Rome, where he was able to parlay his background and experience into the head position at the Capella Giulia.

The issue of Italian opera in France has always been suspect. Following the success (and political failure) of his more famed countrymen such as Francesco Cavalli in Paris, it is no wonder that Lorenzani often found himself on shifting ground. This opera, a short three-act pastorale entitled Nicandro e Fileno after the two main characters, may have achieved a momentary success, but Lorenzani’s music has never had any lasting success in remaining in the repertory. Therefore, it is interesting to have finally his most important stage work, performed by the Canadian ensemble of Le Nouvel Opera and Les Boréades. The latter perform one on a part, with a substantial continuo group and the addition of a pair of recorders. For music of the period in France, this was probably a thin group; it probably had a larger string body initially, but here this reworks the piece into a chamber opera that nonetheless is well suited to the work.
The plot is, as one might expect, completely superficial and perhaps even a bit silly. The two main characters, Nicandro and Fileno, decide to take a stab at one last fling of youth by marrying each other’s daughters, Filli and Clori respectively. Both have a thing for a younger man, Lidio, who seems to love playing the field, so to speak. Meanwhile, a poor shepherd, Eurillo, loves Filli, and when she rejects him decides to avenge his honor by challenging Lidio. In the end, Filli persuades Lidio to settle down, while Eurillo decides that he actually loves Clori. Both Nicandro and Fileno, realizing that this was a pipe dream, embrace the happy couples. Of course, this is no better or worse than most of the opera plots of the age, but it is not terribly outstanding.

As for the music, Lorenzani creates a distinguishable French beginning with a rather competently written French overture, though the second section, which should be fugal or a stylized dance, here is yet a continuation of the regal dotted opening. As it was meant for the court, this is perhaps understandable. The Venetian ritornello style is quite apparent in the opening duet between the two fathers, but the newer French style also exists in the fluid movement into recitative and arioso (here a duet). Filli’s first aria is on the mournful or pensive side, with the soft recorders giving depth to the innocent and light soprano of Nicandro’s daughter. The final portion of the first act features Eurillo’s rather pompous and arrogant aria that features a fair amount of coloratura as he swears revenge for his rejection. Lidio’s first aria in the second act is lilting and dance-like as he explains his heart wanders from one to the next woman. Clori responds with a stylized minuet. Filli then returns with an aria drawn from the prevailing mid-century style of the Venetians, indicating Lorenzani’s study of Venetian opera. In the third act, Lidio’s brief aria with recorders marches forth with a sauntering bass line and his signature coloratura that suddenly devolves into a plaintive, even melancholy moment that dissolves quickly. Finally, there is even a bit of a divertissement in which Lidio and Filli celebrate their betrothal with a slightly minor-key tune that turns almost into a madrigal with the chorus of shepherds. At the end conductor Francis Colpron has inserted the traditional chaconne, this one drawn from Lorenzani’s rival Lully’s opera Amadis. Never mind that the original divertissement preceding it has all of the requisite musical conclusions.

The performance is quite fine. Dominique Côté’s Eurillo is suitably virile and forceful, while Philipp Gagné is appropriately light and flighty, but right on pitch and with an excellent sense of phrasing. The two women, performed by Suzie LeBlanc and Pascale Beaudin, have nicely light and airy voices to match, while the father duo of Nils Brown and Jean-Marc Salzmann are quite resonant. The orchestra sounds much larger than it is, and supports the cast well without overwhelming the voices. It may have been but a bagatelle in the world of French-Italian opera, but Lorenzani’s work is simple and fun. If one is looking for musical depth, this is not your work, but if you want to have a pleasant hour or so of good music, you might want to explore it.

© 2019 Fanfare 

Gramophone
March 28, 2019

Suzie LeBlanc's Filli has an articulate sparkle; an extended complaint about the agonies of love ('Con inviti lusinghieri') matches the soprano's intelligent poeticism with doleful recorders and strings. Pascale Beaudin's fruitier Clori captures her bitterness potently when she realises that Lidio prefers Filli ('Lassa che far deggi'io?'). The shallow Lidio is sung suavely by Philippe Gagné, whereas Dominic Côté conveys touching pathos as the scorned Eurillo. Francis Colpron directs the Montreal Band Les Boréades with zestiness, nonchalance or expressive melancholy as each scene requires.

David Vickers - Gramophone 

Full review: HERE

Early Music America
March 25, 2019

The few modern recordings and performances of Paolo Lorenzani’s music reveal craftsmanship, beauty, and a blend of French grace and Italian fire. French royal opera director Jean-Baptiste Lully probably heard the same things, sensed a potential rival, and tried to block the 1681 premiere of Lorenzani’s Nicandro e Fileno. Fortunately, no less than Louis XIV intervened on Lorenzani’s behalf. The Sun King liked the short opera so much that he came to see it twice. Skip Sempé and Capriccio Stravaganza gave the lighthearted pastorale its first modern performance in 2001, and this premiere recording allows more listeners to hear what the fuss was about.

The plot centers on elderly Nicandro and Fileno planning to marry each other’s daughters. Yet youngsters Filli and Clori have their hearts set on the playboy Lidio, who flirts with them both to the chagrin of Erurillo, who loves Clori. Eventually Lidio decides to settle down with Filli, Clori turns out to actually love Eurillo, and the old men reconcile themselves to staying single. The story isn’t Romeo and Juliet, or even Così fan tutte, but the music is the main event here. Roman-born Lorenzani melds the rhythmic declamation and elegant drama of the French stage with brief arias, ornate vocal passages, and romantic hijinks typical of Italian opera.

Most of the vocal duties fall to the four young lovers, with airtime distributed equally among them. The soloists of Le Nouvel Opéra are assured and believable without overwhelming this delicate amusement. Co-director Suzie LeBlanc’s bright voice and convincingly imploring tone stand out in Filli’s second-act aria. Pascale Beaudin is the romantically confused Clori as well as the darker-voiced of the two sopranos. She’s also a subtle but gifted musical actress, whether trying to cheer herself up in “Alma mia godi, e festeggia” or flying off the handle at seeing Lidio and Filli together in “Lassa che far degg’io?”

It’s easy and fun to dislike tenor Philippe Gagné’s Lidio from the moment he enters, practically dancing with pride in his fickle affections. Dominique Côté’s Eurillo is probably the most sympathetic character, with his smooth, mellow baritone and heartfelt serenade — immediately rebuffed by Clori. His mock vengeance aria is a good example of the measured charm of this cast. All four leads receive touching arioso moments in the midst of recitatives. The third-act scene in which both girls imitate Lidio’s previous aria as they take him to task is especially funny. Tenor Nils Brown and baritone Jean-Marc Salzmann are the titular fathers and play their dialogues and duets fairly deadpan, letting Lorenzani’s notes and their own subtle characterization split the difference between pitiable and ridiculous.

Francis Colpron’s perfectly paced and well-balanced direction make this work more than a historical entry. Long stretches of recitative unfold like actual conversation with the help of varied continuo. Atmospheric and characteristically French five-part strings, Italianate concertante violins, and a pair of colorful recorders show off Les Boréades de Montréal’s sound. Lorenzani’s music accomplishes its modest but enjoyable mission well, especially with the extraordinary musicianship on display here.

Andrew J. Sammut - Early Music America
 

Classica
March 5, 2019

4 ****
« Francis Colpron dirige avec entrain son ensemble de cordes coloré par deux flûtes à bec. Plateau vocal à la hauteur des attentes dans cette œuvre aussi charmante que mineure. »

Jérémie Bigorie – Classica 

Full review: HERE

MusicWeb International
January 30, 2019

If it is true that fame is a matter of having the necessary talent and being in the right place at the right time, then perhaps the reverse is also true – one can have the talent but be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something of the sort seems to have happened to Paolo Lorenzani.

Born in Rome, Lorenzani’s early musical career appeared to mark him out for fame. While a choir boy in the Cappella Giulia within the Vatican, he studied composition with the highly regarded Orazio Benevoli. As a young man his sacred music, performed in several Roman churches, was well-received. In 1675 he was appointed Maestro di cappella at the Jesuit church of the Gesù, and its associated seminary, the Collegio Romano. He seemed to be establishing himself as a significant figure in the world of Roman music and his prospects must have looked good. Yet he chose, before 1675 was out, to leave Rome for Sicily, becoming Maestro di cappella at the Cathedral in Messina. While there he attracted the patronage of the Duke of Vivonne, Viceroy of Sicily and Marshall of France, writing divertissements, ballets and the like for some of Vivonne’s festivals. In 1678, however, the Duke and his armies were recalled to Paris; Lorenzani, presumably not wishing to lose his patron, chose to sail to France with them. One wonders whether or not, as he left Sicily, Lorenzani had any idea of what a complex musico-political world he was about to enter. The ongoing ‘war’ between those (led, ironically, by Lully, born in Florence but a naturalized French citizen) who sought to develop and maintain a national ‘French’ style of music and, on the other hand, those (led by, amongst others, Cardinal Mazarin – another born in Italy who had become a French citizen) wanted to encourage Italian music and musicians, was to prove a difficult environment for Lorenzani. Things started off well for Lorenzani; introduced to court by Vivonne, the king heard a motet by Lorenzani and liked it so much that he arranged for several further performances. He also provided most of the money which allowed Lorenzani to purchase, with royal approval, the position of maître de musique de la Reine. But, increasingly Lorenzani found himself obstructed by Lully. Lully thwarted Lorenzani’s chances of an appointment as sous-maître de musique de la Chapelle. He also endeavoured to prevent a production of Lorenzani’s short pastoral opera, Nicandro e Fileno; but he was unable to do so, and it received several performances at Fontainebleau in September 1681, where a small theatre was specially constructed in the Galerie des cerfs. These performances seem to have been largely well-received by their audiences. In some ways the performances had a significance beyond the merits of the work itself, as Manfred Bukofzer (Music in the Baroque Era, 1948) notes: “The performance … of the Italian pastoral Nicandro e Fileno … constituted the last, though futile, attempt to upset the French opera, by now firmly entrenched at court”.

While Nicandro e Fileno is no lost masterpiece it deserves a better fate than it has had hitherto. After the initial performances it effectively disappeared, until a manuscript was found, in the Bibliothèque Nationale, by the French scholar Henry Prunières in 1922. This manuscript has neither title-page nor overture and there is no way of knowing whether an original overture has been lost, or whether none was ever written. A full study of the manuscript had to wait for the attentions of the Canadian musicologist Albert La France (author of the entry on Lorenzani in The New Grove). La France prepared a critical edition which was used for a staging in Montreal in 2017, by the forces heard on this CD – which is the work’s world première recording.

I find it amusing that the problem presented by the absence of an overture should have been ‘solved’ by using music by, of all people, Lorenzani’s ‘enemy’ Lully, taken from Act III of his Amadis. Perhaps the choice can be viewed as kind of revenge, since after all of Lully’s opposition to Lorenzani and his music, Lully’s own music has been put to the service of Lorenzani’s rediscovered opera.

The opera, in three short acts, has an archetypal comic plot, in a pastoral setting. Two old men, Nicandro (sung by tenor Nils Brown) and Fileno (the baritone Jean-Marc Salzmann) agree that each should marry the other’s daughter, so as to have the comforts of a young wife in their old age. The two girls, Filli and Clori (sung by sopranos Suzie LeBlanc and Pascale Beaudin), who have no wish to marry the old men, are initially rivals – since both of them fancy Lidio (Philippe Gagné) who turn and turn around professes love for both girls! After some fairly predictable complications, a resolution is reached; as in all good comedies, from Plautus and Terence to P.G. Wodehouse, the old are ‘defeated’ by the young. Nicandro and Fileno recognize the foolishness of their original scheme, and the girls are married to more suitable husbands.

Unsurprisingly, this is not an opera which undertakes the study or expression of powerful emotions – the libretto, incidentally, is by one Philippe-Julien Mancini, nephew of Mazarin and a relative of the Duke of Vivonne (Lorenzani’s patron was still proving useful). But if the work lacks emotional weight, it has plenty of elegance and charm and some well contrived situations. All six members of the cast, especially LeBlanc and Beaudin, acquit themselves well. Brown and Salzmann characterize the initial stupidity of Nicandro and Fileno with an engaging effectiveness. LeBlanc is striking in her articulation of her love-pains in the second scene of Act I and finds the right scale of unforced dignity for her prayer to Love ‘Guidami pure Amor’ (Lorenzani’s instrumental writing is particularly fine here, too. The playing of Les Boréades de Montréal is impressive throughout, full of unexaggerated vitality and well-judged rhyhthms (the band is 12 strong, including 2 violins, 2 viole da gamba, 2 recorders, 1 theorbo/guitar, 1 harpsichord and some limited percussion). Atma generously provide the full Italian libretto, alongside English and French translations.

Although without a position at court after 1683, Lorenzani initially chose to stay in Paris, becoming director of music at the Theatine Convent there, where his compositions attracted some favourable attention. His Te Deum and some of his motets were performed in other Parisian churches. Gradually, however, he grew weary of Parisian musical life, according to his contemporary the musical connoisseur and chronicler Sébastien de Brossard. Fortunately, an escape offered itself. He was invited by the chapter of the Cappella Giulia (where he had originally been a choirboy) to become Maestro di cappella. This must have seemed like a rather special kind of homecoming, when he left for Rome in the spring of 1695. Once again, he was active – and appreciated – in the musical life of his birthplace. Sadly, however, most of the works he wrote after his return seem to have been lost.

Glyn Pursglove - MusicWeb International
 

The WholeNote
November 27, 2018

Le Nouvel Opéra and Les Boréades de Montréal are Montreal-based companies dedicated to musicologically and performatively reviving, remounting and reimagining music of the Baroque era (1600 to 1750). Clearly committed to the authenticity, accuracy and specificity of this intricate music (along with its detailed performance practices), historical musicology and creative performance coalesce here on this 2018 recording to shine a light on music that otherwise would run the risk of being relegated to the footnotes of music history.

Here, the first ever recording of Nicandro e Fileno, Paolo Lorenzani’s (1640-1713) pastoral opera for six singers that was initially performed, in Italian, in 1681 before Louis XIV at the palace of Fontainebleau, is brought to life by an aggregation of thoughtful scholars, practitioners and performers. And while there is no doubt that the ensemble, under the skillful direction of conductor and Boréades founder Francis Colpron, is dedicated to the period piece accuracy of this music, these sides are not fusty and this music is not ossified. Rather, new life has been imbued across all three acts, and the once-forgotten Italian-style opera comes alive on this beautifully captured and rendered ATMA Classique recording. The music, along with its unpacking of the still-relevant and universal themes of love, along with its trials and tribulations, brings escapist joy to general music fans and early music enthusiasts alike in these troubled times. A detailed accompanying booklet capturing extensive historical notes and the opera’s libretto is a welcome addition.

Andrew Scott – The WholeNote 

La Scena musicale
November 1, 2018

Un an après le succès de la coproduction entre le Nouvel Opéra et les Boréades, un album paru chez Atma Classique à l’automne vient couronner cette pastorale italienne en lui insufflant vie dans l’univers discographique.

Nicandro e Fileno est un opéra pastoral de Paolo Lorenzani sur un livret de Philippe-Julien Mancini, duc de Nevers. Il a été créé au château de Fontainebleau en septembre 1681, où le roi Louis XIV et sa cour venaient se reposer de temps à autre. Déjà subversif dans le contexte de son apparition, puisque le style italien était proscrit par Lully, alors secrétaire du roi, il ne l’est pas moins dans son propos : Nicandro et Fileno, deux amis âgés, conviennent d’épouser chacun la fille de l’autre. Mais les demoiselles ne l’entendent pas ainsi et sont plutôt attirées par le jeune Lidio, invétéré coureur de jupons.

L’absence de dimension théâtrale nous permet ici de nous concentrer sur la musique et la voix. Vocalement, on se délecte du début à la fin de la pureté des lignes, de la virtuosité des ornementations, de la canaillerie des héros éponymes aux émotions à fleur de peau des deux demoiselles. On savoure le timbre hyalin de Suzie LeBlanc ou encore les volutes tout en nuances de Philippe Gagné. Sans jamais perdre le texte, les chanteurs du Nouvel Opéra nous plongent au cœur de l’esthétique vocale baroque de cet opéra qui navigue entre les sentiments dominants du théâtre musical de l’époque : espérance, ironie, tendresse, trahison, enthousiasme et désespoir.

Les musiciens des Boréades sont tout aussi exquis. Encadrant l’œuvre de Lorenzani avec une ouverture et une chaconne de Lully – il y a peut-être ici quelque ironie à voir Lully, qui n’a pas rendu la tâche facile à son rival, l’enserrer ainsi –, l’orchestre fait montre de sa parfaite compréhension de ce répertoire. Tensions, inflexions, changements de vitesse donnent une direction claire et une âme à cette pastorale. Mark Edwards fait un travail de soutien admirable au clavecin.

On aurait bien du mal à trouver à redire de cette production. Il s’agit d’une franche réussite pour cette première historique de la pastorale de Lorenzani, œuvre qui dormait depuis plus de trois cents ans, îlot de style italien sorti de la mer indomptable de la tragédie en musique à la française. Le livret du disque de quarante-quatre pages contient même le texte de la pastorale en français, italien et anglais et la grande qualité de l’enregistrement préserve toute l’authenticité de l’œuvre. Nous avons déjà hâte à la prochaine coproduction.

Benjamin Goron - La Scena Musicale