Anacréon sings again

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Last week, the Sheldonian played host to a landmark performance of an opera considered lost for a quarter-millennium.

Dr Jonathan Williams, who is Director of Music at St Hilda’s, reconstructed Rameau’s Anacréon from manuscripts scattered across libraries in Paris.

Williams was the conductor when the opera was performed in its entirety for the first time since 1754 at a concert last Friday.

Preceded by a recital of Vivaldi’s Gloria, the concert  was performed by the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment (OAE), an alternative orchestra that makes use of period instruments, the Consort Iridiana, Magdalen College Choir, and soloists.

The recital was extremely well received, and the Faculty of Music, who helped organise the event, were particularly delighted with the evening. Jonathan Cross, Chair of the Music Faculty Board, said: “This was a thrilling event for all involved – performers and audience alike. The rapturous reception said it all.

“The musicians of the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment made the music dance. The soloists performed with Gallic verve – most notably the wonderful soprano Anna Dennis taking the role of Chloé. At the heart of it all was Jonathan Williams, conducting the ensemble to bring to life music on which he had been working for 25 years and which had remained dormant for 250 years. It was a true coming together of musical scholarship and practice.

“The memory of the evening will linger for a long time.”

18th century French composer Jean-Phillipe Rameau wrote Anacréon in 1754 as a light-hearted piece for the court of King Louis XV, where it was performed on 23rd October of the same year. It takes the ancient Greek poet Anacréon as its hero, like another of Rameau’s operas, and narrates the story of how the poet’s works ensure his two young protégés, Chloé and Bathylle, are wed. The work was hailed as a success at the time.

The reconstructed score has been published by Bärenreiter as part of the Complete Rameau Edition.

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