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Monday, September 5, 2011

Performance History: Atys

Atys, William Christie/Les Arts Florissants, 1989. Photo: Michel Szabo

The vocal and instrumental ensemble Les Arts Florissants was founded by William Christie in 1979, nearly three centuries after the creation of the chamber opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier from which it takes its name. Dedicated to the performance of Baroque music on original instruments, Les Arts Florissants has been largely responsible for the resurgence of interest around the world in 17th-century French repertoire as well as in European music of the 17th and 18th centuries more generally. This was repertoire that had, for the most part, been neglected—much of it unearthed from collections in the Bibliothèque nationale de France—but which is now widely performed and admired.

William Christie and Les Arts Florissants made their BAM debut in 1989 with Jean-Baptiste Lully’s enchanting Atys, (click on this link to download the program from the 1989 BAM performance). This 1989 was presented by BAM as part of its premiere season of BAM Opera and the American debut of Atys. Read more about Les Art Florissant and William Christie at BAM here.

Composer Jean-Baptiste Lully defined French opera during the age of Louis XIV. Atys premiered in 1676 and quickly became Louis XIV’s favorite opera, for which he ordered royal command performances throughout his reign. In 1987, under the musical direction of William Christie and his instrumental and vocal group, Les Arts Florissants, the Paris Opera presented the first production of Atys in over 200 years. Paris audiences went wild, and the production became the hit of the Paris theater and music season, hailed as startlingly modern, a story of an amorous triangle as hot-blooded as anything by Puccini.

Given the extraordinary audience and critical response to Atys during its U.S. debut in 1989, BAM offered audiences another opportunity to experience this consummate production in 1992 (Download 1992 program here).

Atys, William Christie/Les Arts Florissants, 1989. Photo: Michel Szabo

For those of us not familiar with baroque opera, the variety of composers and differences in genres and styles of production can be confusing. In a 1995 article on a William Christie master class, New York Times writer Edward Rothstein explains the fundamentals of baroque style.

Download the souvenir Atys Libretto here.

Atys, William Christie/Les Arts Florissants, 1989. Photo: Michel Szabo

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