As of this writing (the very end of 2004), the film of this title seems not to have made its way to the United States yet, but it looks worth waiting for. Directed by Gérard Corbiau (who also did Farinelli, I believe), Le Roi danse tells the story of France's King Louis XIV ("The Sun King"), composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, and playwright Molière. Lully and Molière devised entertainments for the king, and, as he was a ruler in all things, Louis XIV sometimes even participated in these entertainments as a dancer. History tells us that the king, at the age of 14, performed alongside the composer in a Ballet de la Nuit by Lully. Judging from the stills included in DG's booklet, Le Roi danse will at least be good to look at. The ghost of Louis XIV must be pleased by the appearance of his latest cinematic incarnation. Who knows, the day of the big wig might be upon us again!
As this is music for a film, one must not expect that the music selected will necessarily add up to a sensible listening experience at home. Of course the bulk of the music included here is by Lully – mostly from his ballets, but also from him operas and church music. One selection by Michel Lambert, a composer from the generation before Lully's, represents a more old-fashioned style. (Interestingly, Lambert became Lully's father-in-law.) Jacques Cordier was a violinist and composer, also from an earlier generation, but still alive and active during Louis's reign. Robert Cambert was Lully's contemporary and rival.
Of course I can't tell you how the music works in Corbiau's film. I can tell you that this is a very enjoyable pair of SACDs (they are compatible with CD players) for home use. Authenticists will gnash their teeth, however – not because of the performances, because Reinhard Goebel and his forces know what they are doing, and they do it well. (Having said that, Goebel is less at home in the French repertoire than he is in the music from the lands to France's west.) Of a necessity – as far as the film is concerned, anyway – the selections are taken from this work and that work without any kind of logic, except the logic dictated by the film itself. It's a program of excerpts, in essence. Musicologically, it's a mess, and apart from a short essay by Goebel, the listener is not going to get much help from the booklet in sorting it all out. (There are no texts either.) In other words, this is a tasty banquet, but nothing is going to keep the peas from mixing in with the mashed potatoes, and in some cases you might not even know exactly what it is that you are eating. Still, if you want to evoke the court of the Sun King in your very own home, or to prance around royally in your best bathrobe, this soundtrack will be excellent for that purpose.
I am not sure why two SACDs were needed for a program that is less than 76 minutes long – do SACDs have less capacity than CDs? As long as the increased cost is not passed along to the consumer, this is tolerable. Even on a CD player, the engineering certainly is spectacular. Fit for a king, you might say!
This is good fun, and it will give you pleasure as long as you don't expect a comprehensible lesson in music history.
Copyright © 2005, Raymond Tuttle