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GRAMOPHONE (05/2022)
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Reviewer :
Mark Pullinger

If you fancy something off the operatic beaten track, take a wander back into the Spanish Golden Age. Coronis is a mythological zarzuela ‘in two days’ about Diana’s chaste nymph. The score is anonymous but musicologists Raúl Angulo and Antoni Pons have successfully identified the composer as none other than Sebastián Durón, who was appointed master of the Royal Chapel of Charles II in Madrid in 1691.

Setting a highly symbolic anonymous libretto, the zarzuela was first performed for Philip V in December 1705, just months after the British had taken Barcelona by naval assault in the War of the Spanish Succession. It is loaded with political allegory. Coronis is assaulted by the sea monster Triton, following which Neptune and Apollo tussle for her hand. Neptune floods the land and Apollo scorches it before Triton returns, only to be defeated by Apollo, who thus wins Coronis’s heart. Imagine Philip V as ‘sun king’ – he was grandson of Louis XIV, after all – overcoming British marine might and the message is clear.

Coronis is certainly different to the usual style of zarzuela of the time. Durón’s work is an ebullient pastorale and is entirely sung, composed recitatives replacing the usual spoken dialogue. There are elements of Italian dramma per musica but it features very few ‘arias’ as such, and plenty of choral action. Listeners may detect something akin to Elizabethan masques and Purcell’s semi-operas – the characters Menander and Siren are comic parodies who provide a humorous perspective on the story’s conflicts, functioning a bit like Corydon and Mopsa in The Fairy Queen.

The music is often boisterous in style and Le Poème Harmonique’s new recording features baroque guitar, harp and castanets to provide an unmistakable Spanish flavour under the direction of Vincent Dumestre. The Jácara that follows the Passacalle opening to ‘Day 2’ is especially infectious.

Almost all the cast performed Coronis at the Theâtre de Caen in 2019, so it’s no surprise that they all sound at home in their roles in this 2021 recording. It was usual at the time for actresses in theatre troupes to perform male roles in mythological zarzuelas – the male cantors of the Royal Chapel would look down with scorn at performing on the stage – and the only male singer in a named role here is tenor Cyril Auvity, who takes on the role of the elderly sage, Proteus. He does get a fine extended number, though: ‘Let Thrace weep’, which is sung with clean tone.1660-1716Portuguese soprano Ana Quintans is terrific as Coronis, bending notes yearningly in her lament ‘Ye gods, have mercy!’. The rest of the cast are French and perform with distinction. Mezzosoprano Isabelle Druet is excellent as the sea monster Triton, while Marielou Jacquard and Caroline Meng spar as the gods Apollo and Neptune. Anthéa Pichanick and Victoire Bunel throw themselves into the rumbustious roles of Menander and Siren with great spirit. Apart from Quintans, the rest of the cast has just reassembled for a much-delayed run of performances at the OpéraComique. Press photos indicate that Coronis is just as much fun to watch as it is to hear.

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