Rameau’s Zaïs – Beautiful French Baroque Opera by Christophe Rousset

Jean-Philippe Rameau

As mentioned previously, I’m anything but a French baroque expert. I’m a big fan of Bach, love Händel’s operas and oratorios, but my main encounter with Rameau has so far been two excellent “best of” albums, the 2014 Le Jardin de Monsieur Rameau by the brilliant William Christie, and the equally beautiful 2013 album by the young soprano Sabine Devielhe with Alexis Kossenko, Le Grand Théatre de l’Amour.

Zaïs (Aparté 2015)

So I had a vague idea of what to expect when I purchased the latest release by Christophe Rousset and his ensemble Les Talens Lyriques.

By the way, I’m not the only one who will discover the beauty of this opera. Unlike many of Händel’s operas that have seen major revivals in the last 30 years, the last time this has been recorded was 40 years ago by one of the fathers of the historically informed practice, Gustav Leonhard.

Whether the story is worth following is up for debate. Luckily I speak French so I am able to follow the singing, but whether you’re actually interested in understanding what the genie Zaïs is up to, well your call. Basically, not surprisingly, he’s after a woman (Zélide), disguises himself as a shepard, and eventually is willing to give up his magic powers to be able to marry her. Luckily, his boss, Oromazès, king of the genies, is so impressed by the sacrifice that he’s ok to immortalize them both. Nice, isn’t it? What is interesting to note is that apparently, similar to Mozart’s Zauberflöte, this is a work inspired by freemasonry, the booklet tells me.

Rameau Zais Christophe Rousset Les Talens Lyriques 24 96 2015

Rousset is  well known for his recordings of Rameau’s harpsichord works. He does a brilliant job leading his baroque ensemble, there is power and drive (check out the dramatic overture), but also always the right level of nuance if required.

Some great singers as well. Sandrine Piau (love her), Julien Prégardien (son of Christophe), and their colleagues, if unknown to me, all do a great job.

This album has been awarded “Choc de l’Année” (their equivalent of album of the year) by Classica Magazine and 5 stars by Diapason d’or.

I wouldn’t go just as far. On my personal scale, Rameau still comes behind Bach and Händel, but he’s climbed some serious steps on my personal appreciation ladder with this album.

My rating: 4 stars (true 5 star playing, but as said above, I still prefer other baroque composers). But you won’t regret buying it, I guarantee!

You can download it here (Qobuz, hoping they survive their current financial difficulties), or here (Prestoclassical)