William Christie has struck again. With his Baroque performance group, Les Arts Florissants (see my review of their last concert in Washington), he is performing two of the Molière-Lully comédies-ballets, L'Amour médecin and Le Sicilien, ou l'Amour peintre, staged by Jean-Marie Villégier and Jonathan Duverger, at the Comédie-Française (through July 24). An article (Molière ciselé, Lully laid [Chiseled Molière, ugly Lully], April 22) by Eric Dahan for Libération has the goods (my translation):
The French have an American to thank for having rediscovered Lully's music. It was 1987, and thanks to an Atys staged by Jean-Marie Villégier, William Christie and his group Les Arts florissants brought their Baroque musicological revolution to the public. Since then, the team has offered, on a reduced scale, Les Métamorphoses de Psyché at the Opéra-Comique, marked with th same ideal mixture of dramatic intelligence and vocal and musical refinement. [...]Le Sicilien fares at least somewhat better. Villégier transposes the action to the 1930s and borrows images from MGM musical comedies of the period. It sounds anachronistic, but also quite Baroque in its extravagance.
This performance is diametrically opposed to the Bourgeois Gentilhomme presented last year by Vincent Dumestre, in a candlelit setting. Next to that production, an exemplar of coherence and poetry, the stylistic patchwork seen and heard at the Place du Palais-Royal seems quite vulgar. This is not Laurent Pelly. Between the atrocious sets of L'Amour médecin (Kokkos-style cutouts lit unimaginately), the actors playing in such a modern way, the choreography (credited to Jean Guizerix and Wilfride Piolet, two former dance stars at the Opéra), and the approximative vocal interpretations, one is not really sure what to make of it. As directed by Christie from the harpsichord, however, the ten players from Les Arts Florissants at least hold their own and sound magnificent.