|Jeffrey Thompson and members of The New York Baroque Dance Company (photo by Louis Forget)
Thanks to Opera Lafayette, whose visits from Washington, D.C. are always welcome events, we were transported to mid-18th c. France. We were celebrating the marriage of the Dauphin with Maria-Josepha of Saxony; the culmination of a week of festivities was a piece d'occasion called Les Fetes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, ou Les Dieux d'Egypte. The marriage was a hasty one and Jean-Philippe Rameau had very little time to prepare so he pressed into service a heroic ballet in three parts he had just composed with libretto by Louis de Cahusac. The work had been written for The Royal Academy of Music and all that needed to be added to suit the occasion was the prologue--a staging of the reconciliation of Amour (god of love) and Hymen (god of marriage).
Amour (adorable soprano Kelly Ballou, an audience favorite) pouts and sulks, fearful of Hymen's potential constraints. Hymen (mezzo Laetitia de Beck Spitzer Grimaldi) reassures her and all ends happily under the watchful eye of Le Plaisir (tenor Aaron Sheehan). The segment was directed and choreographed by Catherine Turocy whose excellent dancers from The New York Baroque Dance Company portrayed Les Grǎces in correct period style with joy and élan.
Act I comprised the story of Orthésie, an Amazon Queen (soprano Claire Debono) who must overcome the objections of her aggressive confidant Mirrine (soprano Ingrid Perruche) in order to accept the offer of love from the god Osiris (tenor Jeffrey Thompson). In this production (we have seen no other!) the Amazons have become South Asians, thrillingly danced by Kalanidhi Dance, whose director Aniradha Nehru choreographed and directed that segment with gorgeous exoticism.
For Act II, Sean Curran directed and choreographed the story of Canope, god of the Nile River (bass Francois Lis) who chastises his followers because they plan on a human sacrifice to appease him. The proposed victim is the woman he loves and has courted under the guise of a mortal; her name is Memphis (Ms. Perruche) and she is ready to be sacrificed but Canope arrives at the last minute to save her. Canope even gets in a line about gods wanting nothing to do with "odious priests". Now there's a deus ex machina for you! William Sharp lent his fine baritone to the role of the High Priest. The Sean Curran Company effectively portrayed the flowing river.
Catherine Turocy directed Act III, the story of Orie (Ms. Debono) who is in love with Aruéris, God of the Arts (Mr. Thompson) and wants to be loved for her beauty. He must persuade her to express herself artistically which she does with some thrilling trills in her aria. Now he can love her for her art! Ms. Grimaldi portrays a shepherdess and that shepherd whose tender tenor we would recognize anywhere was none other than recording artist Kyle Bielfield who contributes so much to the New York opera scene!
The voices were all topnotch but we must single out Mr. Thompson and Mr. Bielfield, not only for the purity of their voices but for their superlative French diction, for which no titles were necessary. Ryan Brown conducted the lovely music with Andrew Appel providing the harpsichord continuo and Loretta O'Sullivan providing the cello continuo. The music was sometimes restrained and at other times exploded into wild abandon--all of which was reflected in the choreography.
The success of the evening rested not only upon the musical and terpsichorean values but also on the visual. The exotic costumes by Jennifer Tardiff Beall were nothing short of resplendent while The New York Baroque Dance Company provided their own costumes, equally gorgeous. Masks and "Hymen's gift" were attributed to Jane Stein. We believe that gift refers to the delightful scene-stealing ostrich prancing on human legs! There was only one small false note in the entire three-hour evening. In the last act Mr. Curran's choreography with its post-modern gestures seemed inapropos and intrusive. Strangely, Ms. Nehru's choreography fit right in since it reflected the music.
We can scarcely wait for Opera Lafayette's return in May with Andre Grétry's "L'Épreuve villageoise".
© meche kroop