Zoroastre was the fourth of Rameau's tragédies en musique that was staged, but the 1749 audiences were not especially enthusiastic about the opera, so Rameau and his librettist Louis de Cahusac reworked it completely, and in this revised version it was stages successfully in Paris on 19 January 1756. The revised 1756 version is the one heard today.
The opera takes place in the ancient kingdom of Bactria (old Persia) and is about the struggle between good and evil. The good are led by Zoroastre (Zarathustra), the "founder of the Magi", which is a devotee of Ahura Mazda (the Supreme Being) and the evil, led by the sorcerer Abramane, a servant of Ahriman (the Spirit of Evil).
The opera opens, with Bactria in chaos after the death of the king. The King had two daughters: Amélite, which is the rightful heir, and the evil Erinice. They are both in love with Zoroastre, who loves Amélite. After a lot of singing and dancing (5 acts) the Good is triumphant: Zoroastre and Amélite are the new King and Queen. Erinice is now repentant and Abramane defeated.
The new Opus Arte DVD offers an excellent performance of the opera, both visually and musically. Christophe Rousset, who also plays the harpsichord, leads expertly the HIP forces. The singers are very good.
Lis, the title role is Zoroastre, which was written for an haute-contre (a high French tenor). Mark Padmore was scheduled to sing the part, but it is sung here by the young Swedish tenor Anders J Dahlin. He has a very beautiful and flexible voice, which enables him to cope very well with several elaborated coloratura passages. The Evil main character, the sorcerer Abramane, is sung by baritone Evgueniy Alexiev. What a voice. He is outstanding.
From the ladies, one should mention first Anna Maria Panzarella, a Rameau specialist, singing very impressively in the role of the evil sister, Erinice (She recorded this role in the 2003 Erato recording that is conducted by William Christie). Sine Bundgaard sings Amélite. I was less impressed with her singing in the beginning, but than she improves, and in the end, she is very good. All the other singers are excellent, and one must mention the very tall bass Lars Arvidson singing and acting outstandingly as both Zopire and La Vengeance.
This is a typical Pierre Audi production, very suitable for the dark nature of the opera. And there are some very original dances that were created by Amir Hosseinpour. The opera lasts 156 minutes. All the rest of the DVD playing time is a documentary about the production, which has very interesting remarks from conductor Christophe Rousset about the novelty and originality of Rameau's music.
To sum up: This is a beautiful Rameau opera filed with exquisite music. I can highly recommend this set to anyone who is interested in the French baroque opera.