Jacob Ashworth, Christophe Rousset, Joshua Keller, and Jonathan Woody
Visits from the Washington D.C. based Opera Lafayette are always greeted with enthusiasm; to the musical scene of New York City they bring value both entertaining and educational by means of their approach to 17th and 18th c. music. Last night's concert at the Kosciuszko Foundation, entitled Couperin le Grand, brought many delights, both instrumental and vocal.
The elegant room provided not only intimacy but also an appropriate baroque feeling by virtue of its gilded ceiling, recreating the court environment that originally saw (heard) the same material. The generous program introduced us to three myth-based cantatas and a pair of instrumental works.
Of chief interest to us was the recently discovered Couperin cantata Ariane consolée par Bacchus ; for this discovery we must thank Musical Director and harpsichordist Christophe Rousset. The story parallels that portrayed by Richard Strauss in his opera Ariadne auf Naxos--minus the satirical element.
What made this, and the other two cantatas, so riveting was the passionate performance of bass-baritone Jonathan Woody. We were gritting our teeth, waiting for the appearance of the loathed music stand, but lo and behold there was none. That Mr. Woody invested the time and effort to commit to memory not just the Couperin, but also the other two, was sufficiently impressive; it enabled him to share his consummate skill as storyteller. His artistry was rewarded by the well-deserved rapt attention of the audience. His dramatic delivery never missed an opportunity to heighten the drama by means of gesture and facial expression. The proverbial lily was gilded by his French diction.
The cantata La Mort d'Hercule Louis by Nicolas Clérambault and the cantata L'Enlévement d'Orithie by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair shared a number of characteristics with the Couperin but not the immediacy of the Ariadne story. This was not the boring dry performances we associated with the Baroque period before our ears were opened by Opera Lafayette.
These are works filled with passion with each verse illumined differentially with its own tempo, texture, and mood. There is sufficient repetition of motifs to make the melodies memorable. The ornamentation of the vocal line captures the ear with roulades, trills, and appogiature. The harmonies are complex and often dense.
The concerts by Couperin featured a succession of dance rhythms and provided enough variety to keep the ear constantly engaged; we found our body swaying and our toes tapping. Were it not for a sense of decorum, we might have gotten up and danced!
The musicians were impressive all around. The violin of Jacob Ashworth (whom we first heard some years ago with Heartbeat Opera) was spirited with excellent singing tone. The mellow transverse flute, played by the masterful Immanuel Davis, often echoed the melody introduced by the violin. The six-stringed viol, in the hands of Joshua Keller, created the bass line, whilst the harpsichord of Mr. Rousset provided a carpet of sound upon which danced the melodies of the violin and flute.
Opera Lafayette returns to New York City in May with two exciting programs. A little bird told us that the future holds more excursions to New York City, which will make us happy, along with a lot of other grateful fans.
© meche kroop