Le Concert royal de la Nuit

Divertissement for young Sun King

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The famous Ballet royal de la Nuit, danced by His Majesty Louis XIV at the age of fifteen, was performed on seven evenings early in 1653, in the Salle du Petit-Bourbon at the Louvre Palace. It enjoyed general success: the aristocracy, present in large numbers, the ambassadors of Europe, but also the bourgeois of the city of Paris acclaimed this great spectacle whose enchantments made a lasting impression.

To make a lasting impression: that was precisely the grand project of Mazarin, who had just returned to power after the disturbances of the Fronde rebellion. Commissioned by the cardinal in person, this ballet project had been conceived at the highest levels of state as a promotional tool for royal power: the intention was to impose respect on the high- ranking personages of the kingdom, to impress the Parisians who were present, and to disseminate this message elsewhere in the world through the intermediary of the foreign representations.

If today’s historians are in agreement that the Ballet de la Nuit was one of the key spectacles of Louis XIV’s reign, that is because it was influential in numerous respects: political, institutional, aesthetic and musical. For the first time in the history of the genre, the libretto is unified and skilfully laid out in four veilles (the watches of the night) and a concluding grand ballet; all the levels of interpretation and all the arts move towards a single goal: the rising of the Sun.

For this purpose, Mazarin, asked the highest and most reknown artists in the kingdom and in Italy to compose this ode to the young king. The poetry that accompanied the royal ballet was by the illustrious Isaac de Benserade, who already had a high reputation as a writer in 1653, and who was to excel in both the ballet de cour genre and the précieux register. Deploying the widest possible range of learning and invention in his verse, playing by turns on the whimsical, the serious, the comic and the burlesque, Benserade calls on references from mythology, romance and contemporary life.

It is often difficult to establish the names of the composers who wrote the music for the ballets de cour of the early years of Louis XIV’s reign. For the Ballet royal de la Nuit, we can only be sure of the identity of one of them, namely Jean de Cambefort (c.1605-61), who furnished the vocal récits and airs that open each of the four veilles. Many other composers surely took part in it.

Release Harmonia Mundi September 2015:
Limelight Magazine Opera Recording of the Year 2016, Echo Preis World Premiere Recording of the Year 2015, Choc de Classica de l’année 2015, ffff Télérama, **** The Times, Meilleur disque de l’année 2015 De Standaard, Editor’s Choice Gramophone, Coup de Cœur de l’année 2015 La Croix …

PROGRAM

Texts : Isaac de Benserade (1613-1691)
Music by Jean de Cambefort (c.1605-1661), Antoine Boësset (1587-1643), Louis Constantin (1697-1779), Michel Lambert (1610-1696)
Extracts from Francesco Cavalli’s L’Ercole amante (1602-1676) and Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo (1597-1653)
Musical reconsitution by Sébastien Daucé

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