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Opera Lafayette Brings Rameau to Life

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Rameau, Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, C. Santon-Jeffery, C. Sampson, B. Staskiewicz, R. van Mechelen, Le Concert Spirituel, H. Niquet

(released on October 28, 2014)
Glossa GCD921629 | 113'36"
The last time that Opera Lafayette played the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, with Gluck's Armide in 2010, it was a triumph. The company returned to the venue on Monday night, with a house not quite as full but still respectable and very enthusiastic, to give a rare revival of Rameau's Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, an unusual ballet héroïque from 1747. It is not the first in the modern era, a distinction that falls to Le Concert Spirituel, a performance at Versailles to be released on disc later this month: see my review yesterday for more background on the work. Opera Lafayette gave the piece a not unwelcome modern twist, engaging three different dance companies working in different styles to choreograph the dances that are interspersed with the music.

The musical side had its ups and downs, but this was a mostly satisfying evening. French bass François Lis's Canope stood out for a booming voice, perhaps too booming at times and at others almost out of control toward the top, that gave sonic thrill to the overflowing of the Nile in the second entrée. Soprano Ingrid Perruche, matched with him as the nymph Memphis, used her searing tone and grand presence to give affecting weight to her character's more plaintive moments. In the big roles of Orthésie and Orie, soprano Claire Debono could fill the room with sound but did not seem quite the right type of voice for either role, where one missed a lighter ease at the top. Jeffrey Thompson had an even odder stage presence here, in the haute-contre roles of Osiris and Aruéris, than he did earlier this year in Philidor's Les Femmes vengées, which was exceeded by his affected vocal mannerisms, squeezing out top notes (except for some of the highest ones in the first entrée, which he did not quite get) and exaggerating straight-toned crescendi.

Some voices, like soprano Kelly Ballou (Amour and other small roles) and mezzo-soprano Laetitia Spitzer Grimaldi (Hymen and other small roles), would have fared better in the Terrace Theater but were often swallowed up in the larger acoustic. Regrettably, tenor Aaron Sheehan was under-utilized in smaller roles, where he excelled. With the orchestra placed at the back of the hall's large stage, the sound of the woodwinds was a little muted, perhaps justifying Hervé Niquet's doubling of all of the wind parts on his recording. The placement of conductor Ryan Brown with the musicians also caused a few problems in coordinating with the singers, in spite of a video monitor placed at the edge of the stage for the cast. The chorus sounded strong and was always on the mark, although their location in the chorister seats above the stage took them out of the action in a way that went against the integration of music, dance, song, and visuals -- all flowing into one another without boundaries -- that Rameau and his librettist, Louis de Cahusac, were after.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Opera Lafayette celebrates 20th anniversary, and Rameau (Washington Post, October 7)

James R. Oestreich, Those Dancing Gods of Love (New York Times, October 12)
The only element that was missing was the stagecraft, the wondrous mechanical stage effects that made Baroque opera into the spectacle it was. Aside from minimal staging, some evocative lighting, and pretty costumes, it was the dancing by three different companies, in choreography created by their respective directors, that bridged the gap. Catherine Turocy's New York Baroque Dance Company provided the period-appropriate courtly dance, with heels and masks, familiar from any number of Opera Lafayette's performances, while Anuradhu Nehru's Kalanidhi Dance gave a subcontinental twist to the Amazons in the first entrée. The most striking was the vocabulary of modern dance movements drawn on by Seán Curran's self-named company as the Nile gods, in shiny aqua unitards, who bolted down the hall's aisle and washed, wavelike, over the stage as the surging waters of the Nile.

This performance will be repeated tomorrow (October 9, 7:30 pm) in the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center in New York.

1 comment:

Gary said...

This was delightful. I really liked the chorus and Jeffrey Thompson. And the ostrich. I wish there were more baroque opera in the DC area.