Monday, 30 October 2017

Picture perfect: Rameau's Pygmalion at BREMF 2017

Rameau: Pygmalion - Angela Hicks, Josh Cooter, Ensemble Pygmalion - BREMF 2017
Rameau: Pygmalion - Angela Hicks, Josh Cooter, Ensemble Pygmalion - BREMF 2017
Rameau Pygmalion; Josh Cooter, Angela Hicks, Rosalie Wahlfird, Roberta Diamond, Ensemble Moliere, dir: Karolina Sofulak, cond; Satoko Doi-Luck; Brighton Early Music Festival at the Sallis Benney Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 29 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Rameau's one-act opera charmingly re-invented as a picture-book story

Rameau's 1748 opera Pygmalion is quite a slight work, the slim operatic plot providing the excuse for a significant amount of dancing. Without the resources of the Académie Royale de Musique, Ensemble Moliere came up with an imaginative solution for a chamber version which used Kate Anderson's animations to charming effect. We caught the second (of three) performances of the production at the University of Brighton's Sallis Benney Theatre on Sunday 29 October 2017, as part of the Brighton Early Music Festival. Satoko Doi-Luck directed Ensemble Moliere from the harpsichord, with Josh Cooter as Pygmalion, Roberta Diamond as Cephise, Angela Hicks as La Statue and Rosalie Wahlfrid as L'Amour. Karolina Sofulak directed, with lighting by Natalie Rowland.

Kate Anderson's animated designs, projected onto the backdrop, placed the opera in a picture-book contemporary Paris with Josh Cooter's Pygmalion as a contemporary artist working on his PC and the statue (Angela Hicks) as an electronic construct. Rosalie Wahlfrid's L'Amour was ubiquitous, controlling the action throughout. The dance sequences were used for a whistle-stop world tour for L'Amour and the statue, and for Pygmalion and the statue's nuptials. The results made best use of resources (with Wahlfrid as the performance's only dancer), and the naive charm of the performance really engaged, disguising the slightness of the plot.

Roberta Diamond played Cephise, Pygmalion's high-maintenance girl-friend, a small part to which Diamond brought great personality. Angela Hicks brought a nice naive charm to the role of the statue, discovering both love and the world for the first time. Rosalie Wahlfried was suitable inscrutable as L'Amour, animating the whole plot and seeming to delight in meddling.

But the principal singing honours went to Josh Cooter as Pygmalion. Initially singing of the pains of love and then imploring Venus to animate his beloved, after the happy event the tenor turns to singing the joys of love and praising L'Amour. Cooter sang with a lovely plangent tone, bringing a nice heroic edge to this haut-contre part and the high tessitura giving him seemingly little trouble. Stylish, with good French, his singing helped make this slight piece come alive.

Satoko Doi-Luck drew a lively and engaging performance from her small ensemble (Flavia Hirt, flute, Oonagh Lee, oboe/voice flute, Alice Earl & Ellen Bundy, violins, Jakab Kaufmann, bassoon, Kate Conway, viola da gamba) with Doi-Luck playing the harpsichord. Though we missed the amplitude of larger forces, there was much engaging playing and Rameau's sequences of dances came across in lively fashion.

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