|THE BOSTON EARLY MUSIC FESTIVAL--VERSAILLES: portrait of a royal domain|
Anyone who expects early music to be staid or effete would have had their expectations exploded at the Morgan Library where The Boston Early Music Festival came to show us what the court of Louis Quatorze must have been like. Although the fascinating and erudite talk by Benoit Dratwicki (Artistic Director of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles) was largely drowned out by latecomers clumping up and down the stairs, the program notes by Stage Director Gilbert Blin provided ample information to enhance the experience which, truth to tell, required no enhancement!
We were transported to Versailles in 1683 and it was easy to forget that one was sitting in the lowest level of an important institution in 21st c. New York. The highly creative and imaginative Louis XIV moved the court from Paris to Versailles and provided unlimited entertainment for his fortunate courtiers. There were separate rooms in the palace for opera, dance, art, and poetry with other rooms allocated to grand buffets and intoxicating beverages. Chocolate was particularly prized and must have been brought over from the New World.
Chamber operas with limited casts were created for the occasion with the subject matter being self-referential. The courtiers got to witness their own lives at court being reflected back musically.
The opening opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Les Plaisirs de Versailles, was our favorite of the three short operas that were presented. Although the librettist is anonymous, Mr. Blin's scholarship presented ample evidence that the text was written by Donneau de Vise and versified by Thomas Corneille.
Delightful Canadian soprano Mireille Asselin performed the role of La Musique whose vocal efforts were amusingly interrupted by Canadian mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel in the role of La Conversation, whose constant interruptions led to a very funny fight between the two women, reminding us of Susanna and Marcellina duking it out in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. The wordplay (translated into English for the surtitles projected above the stage) accused La Conversation of excessive "ill-timed praise".
Eventually the two women are reconciled and civility prevails so that the next opera can be presented. Actually what we saw and heard comprised two excerpts from Jean-Baptiste Lully's Atys, said to be the King's favorite opera. Canadian baritone Olivier Laquerre was the perfect choice to play Le Fleuve Sangar with the two divinities of the fountain played by soprano Molly Netter and alto Virginia Warnken who harmonized beautifully. Tenor Oliver Mercer sounded sweet as a river god.
The first part of the program closed with a paean to sleep with Le Sommeil portrayed by Aaron Sheehan, John Taylor Ward as Phobetor, and Oliver Mercer as Phantase. It was tenor Jason McStoots' performance as Morphee that came across with the clearest diction. We missed not a single word. We also enjoyed his role in the Charpentier as Le Jeu, who was in charge of gambling.
The Sun King himself, portrayed by Choreographer/Dancer Carlos Fittante, entered in une chaise roulante and Part I of the evening ended with everyone going to sleep. But not the audience! We eagerly anticipated the second part of the program.
Part II comprised Michel-Richard de Lalande's Les Fontaines de Versailles which involved less drama but more music and dancing. Thankfully, Louis recovered sufficiently from his gout to participate in the dancing--every step a revelation--all performed by the BEMF Dance Company. We left les grandes appartements of Versailles, just as the nobles did in the 17th c. and were transported to the gardens of Versailles where statuary came to life.
Proceedings were led by Latone (Ms Warnken) with Ms. Netter's gorgeous soprano getting a wonderful aria as Flore. Mr. Sheehan reappeared as Apollon (reduced to second place by the glory of The Sun King), while mezzo-soprano Sophia Michaux represented Ceres, Goddess of the Harvest. Soprano Margot Rood, Mr. Laquerre, and Mr. Ward made significant vocal contributions.
Baritone Jesse Blumberg reappeared in the role of Comus, as he did in the Charpentier and sang with a rich and satisfying tone. Mr. Mercer was a welcome presence as Bacchus.
We rarely experience an opera in which every single role is as well cast and as well sung! It was a remarkable display of vocal artistry and a true ensemble experience. Factoring in the sensational playing of the BEMF Chamber Ensemble and the glorious dancing of the BEMF Dance Company (Melinda Sullivan, Dance Director) as well as the sumptuous costumes by Anna Watkins, this will be an evening long remembered.
Mr. Blin's stage direction was always on point and Robert Mealy made an excellent concertmaster for this talented group of pluckers and pipers. Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs are Music Directors.
(c) meche kroop