Sunday 9 November 2014

Powerplay - Scenes and Dreams from the Paris Opera

Powerplay, Scenes and Dreams from the Paris Opera - BREMF -  © Robert Piwko.
Powerplay: Scenes and Dreams from the Paris OperaBREMF -  © Robert Piwko
Powerplay: Scenes and Dreams from the Paris Opera: Le Jardin Secret, the BREMF Players, Annabelle Blanc, David Timson; Brighton Early Music Festival at St George's Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 8 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Magical synthesis of music, dance and speech to evoke the 17th century Paris Opera

The Brighton Early Music Festival brought together Le Jardin Secret, the BREMF Players (leader Alison Bury), the dancer Annabelle Blanc, the choreographer Edith Lalonger, actor David Timson and a script by Clare Norburn to celebrate the music and drama of Paris opera in the 17th and 18th century, in a concert at St George's Church, Kemp Town, Brighton on Saturday 8 November 2014. There was music from the operas of Luigi Rossi, Lully, Campra and Rameau, plus music by Michelangelo Rossi and Marin Marais.

Powerplay: Scenes and Dreams from the Paris Opera - BREMF -  © Robert Piwko.
Powerplay: Scenes and Dreams from the Paris Opera
BREMF -  © Robert Piwko
The whole was woven together via a narration from David Timson (spoken off stage), written by Clare Norburn (co-artistic director of BREMF). With a deft mixture of whimsy, fantasy, fact and some rollicking good (and perfectly true) stories, Timson and Norburn took us through the amazing life of the Paris Opera (technically the Academie Royale de Musique). Who knew that Lully and Rameau despite being the creators of great music and great opera were such horrible people?

But it was the music and the drama which counted. The performers combined the members of Le Jardin Secret, Elizabeth Dobbin soprano, Romina Lischka viola da gamba and David Blunden harpsichord, with the BREMF Players, Alison Bury, Julia Kuhn, Marta Jonzon, George Ross, plus dancer Annabelle Blanc.

Powerplay: Scenes and Dreams from the Paris Opera - BREMF -  © Robert Piwko.
Powerplay: Scenes and Dreams from the Paris Opera
BREMF -  © Robert Piwko
Things started with the overture from Lully's Cadmus et Hermione, then soprano Elizabeth Dobbin sang Heureuse une ame indifferente from Lully's Phaeton followed by the Chaconne from the same opera danced by Annabelle Blanc. The aria Non pianga e non sospiri from Luigi Rossi's Orfeo took us  back to a period before Lully when Cardinal Mazarin tried, and failed, to establish Italian opera in Paris. He failed because the French found the Italian music too strange and dissonant, and this was demonstrated with Toccata settima by Michelangelo Rossi. This was contrasted with the Prelude en la mineur by Marin Marais, who actually played in the Paris Opera  orchesta. We also heared one of the lively anti-Mazarin songs which were common at the time. The first half concluded with the Passacaille and aria Le perfide Renaud me fuit from Lully's Armide, a collaboration between soprano Elizabeth Dobbin and dancer Annabelle Blanc involving both singing and dance.

Before the second half started, choreographer Edith Lalonger explained that the choreography in the first half had been re-constructed by Annabelle Blanc based on existing notated dances from the early 18th century, whereas nothing survives of the dances from Rameau's operas and Lalonger had reconstructed the choreography got the second half of the evening based on existing descriptions and treatises.

For the second half we had the Air des Sauvages from Rameau's Nouvelle Suites de Pieces de Clavecin, reflecting his origins as a theorist and writer of harpsichord piece. Then Forets paisibles from his early opera/ballet Les Indes Galantes. In fact Rameau did not start writing operas until he was 50.

Lully had had a Royal monopoly on large scale opera production and it was only after his death that other composers came to the fore. There was a long gap (1687 to 1733) between Lully's death and Rameau's firt opera. So as a contrast the perofmers gave us Ad un cuore from Andre Campra's L'Europe Galante. Campra was one of the composers who provided opera between Lully and Rameau. The evening finished with another group of items by Rameau, Air tres gai from Castor et Pollux, Entree from Les Boreades and Airs langueurs d'Apollon from Platee.

St George's Church was very effectively laid out theatre style with the instrumentalists at the rear of a long thrust stage which was used by soprano Elizabeth Dobbin and dancer Annabelle Blanc. And Annabelle Blanc wore a series of lovely period style costumes which aptly complemented her stylish and evocative dancing which did indeed bring the music to life. Soprano Elizabeth Dobbin had a beautifully poised way with the French music. She has a slim voice which she used finely to create a lovely sense of line, but avoided preciosity because she also brought out the vibrant intensity of the music. After all, we heard the sorceress Armide lamenting the loss of Renau and all sorts of other intense moments. The instrumentalists brought out the colours and style of the music, and were as involving in their way as singer and dancer.

Use quite a small group of performers and a great deal of magic, BREMF successfully evoked the magic of the opera in Paris and clearly entranced the audience. There is one more concert in this year's BREMF, a lovely finale of Handel and Purcell at St George's Church this evening (9/11/2014)
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