Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques</em>, Royal College of Music
09 Apr 2017

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, Royal College of Music

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Laure Poissonnier (Amour)

Photo credit: Studio J'Adore Ce Que Vous Faites

 

When Les fêtes d'Hébé appeared in 1739 Rameau was at the height of creative powers and popularity. Masterpieces such asHippolyte et Aricie, Les Indes galantes and Castor et Pollux had flowed from his pen in the preceding few years, and Les fêtes d'Hébé was one of his most acclaimed works during his lifetime, receiving nearly 400 performances after its premiere, before gradually fading from the repertory following the composer’s death in 1764.

It seems incredible, therefore, that Les fêtes d'Hébé has not previously been staged in the UK. All credit, then, to the combined forced of the Royal College of Music, the Académie de l’Opéra national de Paris, and the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles for bringing Rameau’s charming, colourful ‘entertainment’ to London for the first time.

Les fêtes d'Hébé presents considerable challenges, though, and not all the outcomes were successful. First, the ‘tale’ Rameau tells is slight, the three parts hanging together by the slenderest of threads. Hébé, the goddess of youth cupbearer of the gods, is bored with life on Olympus and irritated by the unwanted amorous advances of Momus. So, with her retinue of Graces, she wings it down to earth in search of other delights, alighting on the banks of the Seine, where Cupid advises her to mount a spectacle in celebration of the three talens: ‘la poésie’, ‘la musique’ and ‘la danse’.

(And, indeed, where better than the environs of L’Opéra to enjoy such ‘talents’, for in the early eighteenth century, with the Revolution still fifty years away, this Parisian institution remained the preferred gathering place for high society and intellectuals, and a symbol of the glory of the French monarchy.)

So, much like the English masque, the opera-ballet has no plot worth mentioning but lots of visual spectacle and flamboyance together with elaborately engineered stage effects. Can the refined aesthetic of the eighteenth century - the highly ornamented and stylised cadences, the gentle artifice, the convoluted ‘narrative’ - be made appealing to twenty-first-century audiences?

James Atkinson, Eleanor Penfold, Joel Williams (c) st…e vous faites.jpg James Atkinson, Eleanor Penfold, Joel Williams. Photo credit: Studio J'Adore Ce Que Vous Faites.

With a budget considerably less than that enjoyed by François Boucher when he supervised the set designs at the Palais-Royal theatre in 1739, Thomas Lebrun (director, set designer and choreographer), Françoise Michel (lighting designer) and Laurianne Scimemi Del Francia (costume design) went for a minimalist, colour-themed approach, bathing each of the acts in a single hue - blue, yellow and red - and adding some bucolic projections. The result was stylish and clean, but not particularly helpful in terms of communicating who was who and what they were doing as they repeatedly and randomly moved small white blocks about the stage. The cast is large and the singers and dancers reappear in different roles. It all looked pretty but I didn’t have much idea what was going on.

Lebrun’s choreography was fairly abstract but lithely danced and not unappealing. It didn’t seem designed to serve a ‘dramatic’ function, though. The modern idiom was also somewhat at odds with the musical aesthetic, in a work in which dance, song and choruses come and go with integrated fluidity. Some of the abundant dance numbers are adapted from harpsichord pieces Rameau had previously published and the music is ravishing. One can agree with Charles Burney who wrote in 1789, ‘More genius and invention appears in the dances of Rameau than elsewhere, because in them, there is a necessity for motion, measure, and symmetry of phrase.’ However, Lebrun did place the ballet, particularly in Terpsichore’s final apotheosis of the art of dance, at the heart of the entertainment, and sequences such as that which accompanied the Oracle’s announcement of Tyrtaeus’ victory in the second act were absorbing.

Andres Villalobos as Palemon (Oboe).jpg Andres Villalobos as Palemon (Oboe). Photo credit: Studio J'Adore Ce Que Vous Faites.

The original cast comprised some of the greatest French singers of the period, and the vocal performances here confirmed that there is a lot of talent in the conservatoires of France and the UK. Rameau’s vocal writing is elegant, expressive and well-placed for the singers if rather lacking in variety and range of character. On the whole the soloists coped well with the curlicues and artifice though inevitably they struggled to imbue much depth into the characterisation. Adriana Gonzalez displayed a rich, plump soprano as Sapho/Iphise while Pauline Texier soared smoothly at the top as Hébé in the Prologue and was an engaging Églé in the final Act, wooing Juan de Dios Mateos’ arrogant Mercury with charming persistence. Tenor Joel Williams revealed an alluring voice as Oracle/a stream (there’s a part for ‘a river’ too …), and Eleanor Penfold, a Naiad, joined him in a delightful duet in Act 1 during a fête galante mounted by Sapho to celebrate their reunion. Tomasz Kumiega displayed a sure sense of the style. The French chorus (directed by Olivier Schneebeli) were terrific.

Conductor Jonathan Williams pushed things along at quite a lick, sometimes at the expense of the intonation and the insistent pace could not have aided the singers’ efforts to inject some depth into their roles. Moreover, pastoral needs a little more languor; and the small string section of the Royal College of Music Baroque Orchestra inevitably could not summon the richness that Rameau’s original audiences must have enjoyed.

Can a modern audience be made to care about the amorous shenanigans of Sapho, Iphise and Mercury, or be absorbed by injustices and restorations among mythical kings and deities? Probably not. The French baroque opéra-ballet is an acquired taste and one not naturally suited to modern palettes. But, this ambitious production offered visual and aural enjoyment and the three collaborating institutions should be lauded for their efforts and for bringing Les fêtes d'Hébé to life.

Claire Seymour

Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les fêtes d'Hébé

Hébé/Églé - Pauline Texier, Sapho-Iphise - Adriana Gonzalez, Amour/Cupid - Laure Poissonnier, Momus/Lycurgus - Jean-François Marras, Thelemus/Mercury - Juan de Dios Mateos, Hymas/Tyrtaeus - Mikhail Timoshenko, Alcaeus/Eurilas - Tomasz Kumiega, A stream/A shepherdess - Julieth Lozano, Naiad/A shepherdess - Eleanor Penfold, Oracle/A stream - Joel Williams, A river - James Atkinson, Dancers - Karima El Amrani, Antoine Arbeit, Maxime Camo, Lucie Gemon, Léo Scher, Julien-Henri Vu Van Dung; Director/Set Designer/Choreographer - Thomas Lebrun, Lighting Designer - Françoise Michel, Costume Designer - Laurianne Scimemi Del Francia, Royal College of Music Baroque Orchestra, Les Chantres, singers of the Centre de musique baroque de Versailles (director Olivier Schneebeli).

Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London; Thursday 6th April 2017.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):