09 August 2023

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Henry Desmarest — CIRCÉ (K. Gauvin, A. Sheehan, T. Wakim, J. Blumberg, A. Forsythe, D. Williams; Boston Early Music Festival, 4 June 2023)

IN REVIEW: soprano KARINA GAUVIN as Circé (left) and tenor AARON SHEEAN as Ulisse (right) in Boston Early Music Festival's 2023 production of Henry Desmarest's CIRCÉ [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]HENRY DESMAREST (1661 – 1741): CircéKarina Gauvin (Circé), Aaron Sheehan (Ulisse), Teresa Wakim (Astérie), Jesse Blumberg (Elphénor), Amanda Forsythe (Éolie), Douglas Williams (Polite), Hannah De Priest (L’Amour), Nola Richardson (Une nymphe, Une prêtresse, Une néréide), Mindy Ella Chu (Une prêtresse), Mireille Lebel (Minerve), Brian Giebler (Un amant fortuné, Une euménide), Jason McStoots (Phantase, Une euménide), James Reese (Un amant fortuné, Mercure), Kyle Stegall (Une songe, Aquilon), Daniel Fridley (Une euménide), Michael Galvin (Phaebétor), Jonathan Woody (La grand prêtre du temple de l’Amour), Ashley Mulcahy (ensemble), David Evans (ensemble); BEMF Dance Company; BEMF Orchestra; Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, musical directors [Gilbert Blin, stage director and set designer; Robert Mealy, orchestra director; Melinda Sullivan, dance director; Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière and Pierre-François Dollé, choreographers; Jérôme Kaplan, costume designer; Kelly Martin, lighting director; Kathleen Fay, executive producer; Boston Early Music Festival, Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Sunday, 4 June 2023]

The source of many stories that have been told upon the lyric stage, Ovid could have populated a vast tome with tales of the metamorphoses that have transformed opera since its inception in the final decades of the Sixteenth Century. From the recitative-driven model espoused by opera’s earliest exponents to Twenty-First-Century scores, in which sounds are participants in opera in their own right, the genre has evolved in some way with the creation of each new work. Repeatedly rejuvenated and reimagined via the initiatives of musical innovators including Jacopo Peri, Claudio Monteverdi, Luigi Rossi, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Jacques Offenbach, and Matthew Aucoin, a story like that of the mythological tunesmith Orpheus illustrates the capacity of opera to continually transform not only its own conventions but also the expectations and experiences of its audiences. The finest performances and productions affirm that opera is a strange and sublime realm in which reevaluation is often the most effective catalyst for creativity.

A peer of Ovid as an inspiration to opera composers and librettists, Homer provided in his Iliad and Odyssey comprehensive studies of the superstitions and social mores of ancient Greece, masterfully paralleling the actions of ordinary men and women in his accounts of the feats of legendary figures. Unsurprisingly, the denizens of his epics have often assumed operatic guises, their exploits enacted upon the stage both as exciting entertainment and as symbolic representations of diverse social and political situations. Louise-Geneviève Villot de Saintonge’s libretto for Henry Desmarest’s 1694 opera Circé, a tragédie en musique of the type popularized in France during the latter half of the Seventeebth Century by the Italian-born Jean-Baptiste Lully, with whom Desmarest likely studied in the 1670s, translated episodes from Homer’s accounts of the tribulations of Odysseus into the operatic dialect cultivated at the court of Louis XIV. Adhering to the custom of the era by launching their Circé with a prologue designed to flatter the opera’s royal audience, Desmarest and de Saintonge crafted a theatrical work in which, propelled by music of charm and variety, the gender paradigms of the age were examined and excoriated with perspicacity akin to that with which Jane Austen scrutinized the gender biases of Regency Britain

Though the product of Desmarest’s and de Saintonge’s collaboration undeniably exemplifies elements of the dramatic convolution typical of operas of its vintage, Circé also contains characterizations of near-Shakespearean depth. None of Circé’s principal characters is uniformly virtuous or maleficent in any conventional sense: each actor in the drama is motivated by disparate agendas, the clashes amongst which—in some instances in a single individual—intensify the opera’s histrionic discord. Providing the nucleus of the 2023 Festival’s celebration of women’s rôles as inspirations, subjects, creators, and practitioners, Boston Early Music Festival’s production of Circé glorified the proto-feminism of Desmarest’s and de Saintonge’s depictions of Circe, Ulysses, and their companions. In this staging, their woes, borrowed from the pages of Homer, were fascinatingly timely, vouchsafing that the monsters of myth lurk within the miscommunications and misunderstandings of the digital age.

IN REVIEW: dancer and choreographer MARIE-NATHALIE LACOURSIÈRE as La Fureur (center) with the company of Boston Early Music Festival's 2023 production of Henry Desmarest's CIRCÉ [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]Monstres d’Antiquité: the company of Boston Early Music Festival’s 2023 production of Henry Desmarest’s Circé, with dancer and choreographer Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière as La Fureur (center)
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]

Grandiose spectacle was often as integral a component of Lullian tragédie en musique as it was of the Nineteenth-Century grand opéra of Auber, Halévy, and Meyerbeer, and contemporary documentation of the production team assembled for the première staging of Circé at the Académie Royale de Musique in November 1694 indicates that bountiful resources were lavished upon the opera’s inaugural showing. Under the guidance of the Festival’s Executive Director Kathleen Fay, BEMF transformed the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre into a hypnotic realization of Circé’s enchanted island in which the characters’ tempestuous inner and outward emotions intrigued and engaged the performers and their audience. Precepts of Seventeenth-Century stage deportment as modern scholarship interprets them were honored throughout the production, but Gilbert Blin’s stage direction and evocative set designs grounded even the most fanciful scenes in lavish but gritty realism. Their exalted ranks and supernatural abilities notwithstanding, the figures in Blin’s vivid tableaux behaved not as pantomime archetypes do but like living, feeling people.

Dazzlingly opulent, tastefully erotic, and strikingly phantasmagorical, Jérôme Kaplan’s costume designs lent visual appeal and lucidity to the opera’s narrative without impeding movement by singers and dancers. The latter, their ranks directed by Melinda Sullivan and including the production’s choreographers, Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière and Pierre-François Dollé, executed thoughtfully-conceived dance sequences with urbanity and athleticism, their gestures often undulating in tandem with the cadences of the text in the glowing ambience of Kelly Martin’s lighting. Unlike many of today’s productions of standard-repertory works, BEMF’s Circé exulted in the piece’s eccentricities rather than seeking to disguise them with incongruous stage business. Blin and BEMF’s team of artists and artisans demonstrated that Circé is a work that needs rejuvenation, not rehabilitation.

Their work in much-praised productions of operas by Lully and Marc-Antoine Charpentier ideally prepared BEMF’s Music Directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs for successfully reawakening and energizing Desmarest’s episodic score. Guiding the continuo with the attention to detail for which they are renowned, the pair achieved commendable cohesion and consistent momentum, maintaining dramatic tension but avoiding anachronistic excesses. Led by violinist Robert Mealy, whose instinctual, almost linguistic phrasing engendered near-ideal support for the singers, BEMF’s orchestra met the challenges of Desmarest’s score with the virtuosity that frequent BEMF patrons might take for granted. Desmarest’s orchestral writing is predictably similar to Lully’s and Charpentier’s, but the playing of BEMF’s musicians illuminated Circé’s originality, particularly in abundant finely-wrought passages for winds. Sonically complementing the production’s visual splendor, O’Dette and Stubbs crafted a sumptuous instrumental gallery in which the kaleidoscopic hues of the cast’s character portraits shone.

IN REVIEW: tenor JASON MCSTOOTS as une Phantase in Boston Early Music Festival's 2023 production of Henry Desmarest's CIRCÉ [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]Une voix d’un autre monde: tenor Jason McStoots as une Phantase in Boston Early Music Festival’s 2023 production of Henry Desmarest’s Circé
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]

Embodying the Festival’s homage to powerful women, the rôle of L’Amour was depicted not as a male figure as in traditional mythology but as an unapologetically ebullient feminine presence, animated by the effervescent performance of soprano Hannah De Priest, whose sparkling voicing of ‘Je reçois vôtre hommage, il est tendre et sincère’ in the eighth scene of Act Two epitomized the mellifluous benevolence of her characterization throughout the show. Heard as a Nymphe, a Prêtresse, and a Néréide, soprano Nola Richardson also sang refulgently, and mezzo-soprano Mindy Ella Chu enunciated the portentous words of a Prêtresse with vocal poise. In the second scene of Act Three, mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel voiced Minerve’s ‘Il n’est pas temps de paraitre’ arrestingly, and the goddess’s wise authority was powerfully conveyed in every scene in which she appeared. Enriching ensembles, the voices of mezzo-soprano Ashley Mulcahy and tenor David Evans blended euphoniously with thoss of their colleagues foretelling future success in larger assignments.

A quartet of uniformly capable tenors inspirited an array of secondary rôles with vocal elegance and incisive articulation of texts. As un Amant fortuné in the fourth scene of Act One and une Euménide in Act Four, Brian Giebler sang with impeccable control and tonal allure, imparting the dramatic significance of each word that he uttered. Jason McStoots effortlessly scaled the vocal heights of Desmarest’s writing for Phantase in Act Three and an Euménide in Acr Four, and, first appearing as un Amant fortuné in Act One, James Reese voiced Mercure’s ‘Fuis loin d’ici, troupe odieuse’ in Act Four with apt authority. Kyle Stegall’s ethereal timbre shimmered in the writing for une Songe in Act Three and as Aquilon in the fifth scene of Act Five, his refined singing of ‘De la fille d’Éole, il faut combler les vœux’ heightening the consequence of the words.

Extending the superlative caliber of the vocalism into the lower compass, bass Daniel Fridley sang une Euménide’s music in the fourth scene of Act Four with imperturbable assurance. In Act Three, bass Michael Galvin intoned Phæbétor’s ‘Ulisse, il faut quitter ces funestes climats’ with urgency, the voice viscerally evincing the import of the words. Both in the music for le Grand Prêtre du Temple de l’Amour in Act Two, ‘Approchez-vous, heureux mortels’ voiced with stirring sobriety and stylistic acumen, and in ensembles, bass-baritone Jonathan Woody’s voice reverberated rousingly in the auditorium’s acoustic, his descents to the depths of his range reliably audible.

IN REVIEW: bass-baritone DOUGLAS WILLIAMS as Polite in Boston Early Music Festival's 2023 production of Henry Desmarest's CIRCÉ [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]Le compagnon dévoué: bass-baritone Douglas Williams as Polite in Boston Early Music Festival’s 2023 production of Henry Desmarest’s Circé
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]

BEMF’s loyalty to artists whose work advances the Festival’s ideal of reintroducing neglected scores with a fusion of uninhibited imagination and fidelity to historical accuracy often begets fortuitous casting, and this production of Circé was distinguished by superb singing from artists who are much admired by Boston audiences. Returning to BEMF, where he will be heard in 2024 as Nero in Reinhard Keiser’s Die römische Unruhe, oder Die edelmütige Octavia, bass-baritone Douglas Williams portrayed the Greek prince Polite, a companion on Ulisse’s journeys who has fallen in love with Circé’s confidante Astrie, with characteristic suavity. Credible as both a rugged warrior and a tender lover, his Polite wooed with sultriness and warned with immediacy, voicing ‘Enfin, nous n’avons plus de témoins que l’Amour’ in Act Two with solemnity and electrifying vocal cogency.

Dueting with Astérie, Williams sang ‘Amour, que tes plaisirs sont doux!’ seductively, his phrasing limning the character’s emotional engagement and the singer’s command of verbal inflection. In the Act Five scene with Astérie, he again mastered the vocal and expressive ranges of Polite’s music, delivering ‘Ce héros m’a sauvé plus d’une fois la vie’ confidently. Uniting his voice with Astérie’s, his pronouncement of ‘Que ma joie est extrême!’ rightly ecstatic. Williams portrayed Polite with subtlety and depth greater than the character’s rôle in the opera’s action suggests that he possesses, but every choice was justified by score and libretto.

IN REVIEW: soprano AMANDA FORSYTHE as Éolie in Boston Early Music Festival's 2023 production of Henry Desmarest's CIRCÉ [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]La fille du vent: soprano Amanda Forsythe as Éolie in Boston Early Music Festival’s 2023 production of Henry Desmarest’s Circé
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]

Rather than Penelope, the wife whose much-tested constancy is extolled by Homer and in operatic incarnations including Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria and Gabriel Fauré’s Pénélopé, Ulisse’s paramour in Desmarest’s and de Saintonge’s Circé is Éolie, a daughter of the queen of Ligari who has no counterpart in Homer. Regardless of the lady’s questionable literary provenance, she indisputably received an exquisite portrayal in BEMF’s Circé from soprano Amanda Forsythe. The diaphonous brilliance of Éolie’s first appearance in Act Three introduced a characterization distinguished by beguiling tonal beauty, verbal acuity, and artful ornamentation. The first words of ‘Désirs, transports, cruelle impatience’ revealed Forsythe’s Éolie to be a woman abused but by no means defeated by fate. No Ulisse could have been immune to the magnetism that emanated from Éolie in their first scene together, in which the soprano’s voice glistened throughout its compass. In the Act Four scene with Circé, in which the princess courageously faced her ferocious rival for Ulisse’s love, Forsythe intoned ‘J’ignore les détours de ce bois solitaire’ and ‘Moments où je dois voir l’objet de ma tendresse’ with contrasting distress and determination, ingenuously differentiated with shifting vocal colors.

Éolie’s daring mission to free Ulisse from Circé’s clutches coming to fruition in Act Five, Forsythe’s vocalism radiated the assertiveness of a noble spirit still enduring agonies but certain of the integrity of her goal. In her scene with Ulisse, ‘J’ai crû vôtre perte certaine’ communicated resolve that surged in Forsythe’s singing of ‘Ne nous quittons jamais, payons-nous des douceurs.’ Intuitively sculpting phrases with complete comprehension of the felicities of the composer’s settings of the librettist’s words but never over-accentuating a note or syllable, she garnered empathy for the unflappable lover she depicted. In lesser company, Forsythe might easily have dominated the performance: in this performance, she was a resplendent supernova in a gleaming constellation of fellow stars.

IN REVIEW: baritone JESSE BLUMBERG as Elphénor in Boston Early Music Festival's 2023 production of Henry Desmarest's CIRCÉ [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]L’amant éconduit: baritone Jesse Blumberg as Elphénor in Boston Early Music Festival’s 2023 production of Henry Desmarest’s Circé
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]

If Circé can be said to have a villain in a conventional sense, he is Elphénor, a Greek prince and fellow traveler of Ulisse and Polite whose amorous ambitions supplant his allegiance to his comrades, yet his actions are spurred not by iniquity but by desire  The character’s torturous duplicity was the cornerstone of baritone Jesse Blumberg’s portrayal. From Elphénor’s entrance in Act One, Blumberg lent burgeoning tension to each of the prince’s exchanges with Astérie, the object of his romantic obsession, singing ‘L’Inhumaine me fuit, rien ne peut l’attendrir’ in their scene together with a rejected lover’s ardor and frustration. A different facet of Elphénor’s persona emerged in his Act Two scene with Ulisse, in which Blumberg’s forceful voicing of ‘Quand le bruit de votre naufrage’ prefaced an incendiary, conspiratorial account of ‘Quand on aime tendrement.’

Elphénor’s plight reaches its zenith in Act Three, and Blumberg responded with skilled vocal acting, words insightfully shaped into piercing declarations of feeling as in his tormented singing of ‘Je lui suis suspect, l’infidèle.’ Cornered by the suspicious Circé, the baritone’s intimidated Elphénor sang ‘Quand on a tant d’amour avec tant de beauté’ with audible trepidation. The subsequent discourse with Astérie, disgusted by the prince’s unwelcome protestations of love, drew from Blumberg his most affecting singing of the afternoon, the slight hardness at the top of the range conveying the emotional toll of Astérie’s scorn. Declaiming ‘C’en est trop, barbare inhumaine’ wrenchingly, Blumberg intimated the gravitas of Elphénor’s despair, the fervor of his singing making the forlorn man’s suicide genuinely moving. Especially when he returned as a spirit summoned from Hades in Act Four, defying Circé’s command to betray Ulisse and Éolie by divulging their liaison, Elphénor’s vocal line intermittently descended beyond the lower extremity of the strongest portion of Blumberg’s range, but every note of the part was sung with conviction and musicality.

IN REVIEW: soprano TERESA WAKIM as Astérie in Boston Early Music Festival's 2023 production of Henry Desmarest's CIRCÉ [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]L’objet de deux amours: soprano Teresa Wakim as Astérie in Boston Early Music Festival’s 2023 production of Henry Desmarest’s Circé
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]

Although the proud woman’s disdain inadvertently precipitates Elphénor’s demise, Circé’s confidante Astérie was in soprano Teresa Wakim’s performance both pensive and fiery. At her entrance in Act One, innate conviviality resounded in her voicing of ‘Vous serez toujours jeune et belle,’ but, joined by Circé, ‘Pour les amants les plus heureux’ disclosed increasing uncertainty, evoked by the soprano’s tonal shading. A steely edge glinted in Wakim’s timbre in the scene with Elphénor, exasperation giving way to ire as the lovelorn prince pressed his suit. Building from her anguished ‘Ah! c’est trop retenir mes pleurs’ to a febrile performance of ‘L’inhumaine Circé, par un enchantement,’ the progression of Astérie’s disillusionment in Act One was realized with gripping directness. In the scenes with Ulisse and Polite that followed, Wakim deployed motivic vocal emphases to enliven each emotion, serenading her true love Polite with a caressing ‘Amour, que tes plaisirs sont doux!’ of unaffected zeal.

Wakim’s singing in the fateful scene with Elphénor in Act Three, Astérie’s contemptuous dismissal of his affection ultimately impelling him to take his life, coruscated with indignation and impetuosity, the clarity of her diction wielded like a dagger but lacking the savagery of true hatred. In the Act Five scene with Polite, the iron core of the soprano’s voice gave her reading of ‘Ah! vous allez périr sans délivrer Ulisse’ galvanizing potency, and she sang ‘Dieux! le cruel m’abandonne’ with insurmountable focus. Finally extricated from the strife of amorous entanglements and restored to her beloved, Wakim’s Astérie voiced ‘Que ma joie est extrême!’ with triumphant vigor. Instances of intonational occlusion in Wakim’s performance were laudably few, the technical accomplishment of her singing fostering a characterization that, while wholly authentic in style, heightened the surprising modernity of Astérie’s complex psychological development.

IN REVIEW: tenor AARON SHEEHAN as Ulisse in Boston Early Music Festival's 2023 production of Henry Desmarest's CIRCÉ [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]Le grec enchanté: tenor Aaron Sheehan as Ulisse in Boston Early Music Festival’s 2023 production of Henry Desmarest’s Circé
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]

Among Circé’s ambiguous players, the legendary hero Ulisse is given an especially equivocal ethical constitution: neither faithful nor faithless, he pursues a course that is at once opportunistic and inexorable. The journeyer’s inherent restlessness was omnipresent in tenor Aaron Sheehan’s entrancing performance of the rôle, in which unerring musicality was fused with sophisticated theatrical savvy. Singing ‘Quel reproche cruel pour mon cœur amoureux!’ in Act One with exceptional musical accuracy and dramatic involvement, he extracted the idealized figure of legend from de Saintonge’s distillation of Homer’s epic and, with the aid of Desmarest’s writing, molded him into a man of joltingly current sensibilities. In his scene with Astérie in Act Two, Sheehan’s poetic but pointed vocalism evidenced the confounding contradictions of Ulisse’s predicament. Suffusing his proclamation of ‘La conquête de votre cœur’ in the scene with Circé with caution, Ulisse’s loathing for Circé’s infatuation seethed in ‘Désir de se venger, inutile fureur.’

The expressive vitality of Sheehan’s singing fashioned a performance of ‘Faudra-t-il toujours me contraindre?’ in which the spectrum of Ulisse’s reactions to his circumstances could be discerned in the tenor’s understated gradations of tone, yet even in his fraught meeting with Elphénor the voice was lustrously attractive. Dashingly projecting ‘O Ciel! ô juste Ciel! j’implore ton secours’ in the scene with Éolie, he lavished a stream of mesmerizingly lovely tone on ‘Quand on aime tendrement.’ Sparring with the increasingly volatile Circé in Act Four, Sheehan’s Ulisse unleashed a deluge of disillusionment in a galvanizing voicing of ‘Dieux! quelle injustice effroyable!’ The Act Five scene with Éolie allowed Sheehan to shift from fierceness to finesse, and the effervescence of his singing of ‘Que ne vous dois-je pas, adorable Éolie?’ persisted in an ebullient account of ‘Ne nous quittons jamais, payons-nous des douceurs.’ Rather than depicting Ulisse as a caricatured protagonist, marginalizing his unsavory traits, Sheehan embraced all of the character’s dimensions, his fleet, fetching vocalism rendering the negative as enthralling as the positive.

IN REVIEW: soprano KARINA GAUVIN as Circé in Boston Early Music Festival's 2023 production of Henry Desmarest's CIRCÉ [Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]La reine du rejet: soprano Karina Gauvin as Circé in Boston Early Music Festival’s 2023 production of Henry Desmarest’s Circé
[Photograph by Kathy Wittman, © by Boston Early Music Festival]

Separating the opera proper from its allegorical prologue, BEMF’s production accentuated the dramatic verisimilitude and musical equilibrium with which Desmarest and de Saintonge structured their depiction of Circé, qualities that were hallmarks of Québecoise soprano Karina Gauvin’s portrayal of the rôle. Although Circé’s tessitura is centered in some passages lower than the range in which Gauvin’s voice is most voluptuous, she characterized the protean sorceress as a sensitive, unapologetically sexual woman who maintained regal dignity in rage and repose. With her dulcet cry of ‘Ah! Que l’Amour aurait de charmes,’ Gauvin established her Circé as a woman unafraid of baring her vulnerabilities, but the doubt that undermined her joy in ‘Une secrète jalousie’ offered a glimpse of the severity of which she was capable.

Sharing her concerns with Astérie, ‘Pour les amants les plus heureux’ was sung with restraint, Circé seeming to distrust her own wisdom. Her statement of ‘Prince, vous connaissez jusqu’où va ma tendresse’ to Ulisse was as vehement in its way as her asseveration of ‘Votre amitié s’intéresse’ to his fellow Greeks was portentous. Gauvin sang ‘Changez-vous tristes lieux’ lustily, remorselessly bewitching Ulisse’s companions. Circé’s disquiet grew more pervasive in her Act Two scene with Ulisse, the simmering consternation in her ‘Quoi? vous n’avez rien à me dire?’ detonating in ‘Désir de se venger, inutile fureur.’ The scene with Elphénor in Act Three also bristled with incredulity, the soprano’s voicing of ‘Prince, je ne saurais vous cacher ma tristesse’ charged with vexation. The anger of Circé’s assertion of ‘Ulisse est inconstant’ to Astérie was tinged with sorrow, as was her poignant ‘Enfin il est donc vrai qu’Elphénor ne vit plus’ in the Act Four contest with Ulisse. Commanding Elphénor’s shade to rise from Hades and name her rival, ‘Dieu ténébreux du vaste empire’ was chanted with irrefutable authority, but, the name withheld, her desolation erupted into vitriol in the scene with Éolie, ‘Qu’ai-je entendu? c’est ma rivale, o Dieux!’ sung with abrasive bitterness. In Gauvin’s performance, Circé’s ‘Venez, Démons, empruntez les attraits’ was worthy of comparison with the frenzied outbursts of Cherubini’s Médée and Verdi’s Lady Macbeth.

The emotional gauntlet to which Circé is subjected in Act Five recalls the final afflictions suffered by the heroines of Lully’s Armide and Charpentier’s Médée. Acted without prudence and circumspection, Circé’s final scenes could educe parody instead of pathos, but it was in these scenes that Gauvin’s performance was most touchingly human. Deprived of her power to conquer by deceit, she was at last not a sovereign or a sorceress but only, fully a woman. Her exclamation of ‘O rage! ô douleur mortelle!’ was not shrieked but voiced with pained beauty. The venomous yearning for retribution that coursed through Gauvin’s singing of ‘Ah! quelle rigueur extrême!’ was terrifying, but it was Circé’s heartbreak that billowed most memorably from the singer’s vocal cords. For Gauvin’s Circé, the subjugation of her sorcery liberated her feminity, a declaration of independence as momentous in 2023 as it was in 1694.