Every time I listen to French baroque anything, I end up with the “forêts paisibles” number from Les Indes Galantes stuck in my head for at least several hours. This seems to be a law of the universe of a level of immutability comparable to, say, gravity, or the way in rural areas of the US whenever more than two people reach a 3- or 4-way stop at the same time everyone either panics and freezes, hoping that the other cars will go away or, alternately, barrels ahead as if the shame of not knowing what to do in such an extraordinary situation is best carried off with a roar of unmuffled engine and great swinging of mudflaps, especially if you drive a really big truck. The point is, as an outcome it is extremely predictable and attempting to avoid it is probably a fool’s game.
I was thinking about French baroque opera a little more. I don’t really have a lot of experience with it. The only such opera I have ever seen live was Rameau’s Platée at the New York City Opera (remember the NYCO?) in like 2003 or 2004. I remember it being colorful and pretty fun. The countertenor they had dressed up the frog suit as Platée was kind of a riot. I believe there is a chorus towards the end where repetitions of “bon” or “c’est bon” are made to sound like a frog croaking? I also have a bright memory of Christine Brandes as Folly nailing some fairly gnarly coloratura.
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Why refrigerators, anyway? The pattern seems to be (domestically-themed) boxes, toy houses, confined spaces, and cold. Or cold contrasted to warm – we get warmth in the form of the deer’s blood that Diana’s maidens smudge about the place, in the form of hell, behind the fridge, and in Diana’s antagonist, Cupid, who is costumed in bright red and orange and yellow. And bodies on gurneys in morgues, as in Act V, are certainly cold – except when they are revealed not to be dead after all.
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The tone of this production is both whimsical and sad, in a detached kind of way. Some of the whimsical bits have the effect of both pushing aside and emphasizing the fact we have people sloshing around with buckets of deer blood and the whole thing ends with the execution of Love. (In fact, the whole thing has the same “whimsical and a bit dark but also very glossy and slick and occasionally nudge-nudge” vibe I got from that Glyndeborne Fairy Queen from a while back, and lo and behold, it’s the same director, Jonathan Kent. Well!) We have the refrigerator people in the prologue making a little forest out of broccoli with an orange-slice above for the sun, and dancing around in it – but we also have the very real pathos of Phaedre (Sarah Connolly), who has found herself in an impossible position and pays the price.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you staged an entire Rameau opera on the inside of a French person’s refrigerator? I hadn’t either – but this is why we watch opera, isn’t it. There are always questions that you never even realized you hadn’t asked.
Watching that Glyndebourne Hippolyte. Not sure I am cut out to be a French baroque freak. Inspired by the concept of the production, I ended up amusing myself – while listening! – by drawing, from memory, the contents of my refrigerator. I left out the tamari sauce and a few other condiments because I got tired of drawing jars and bottles.
Why is it that when Handel writes operas with mythological plots it’s usually hard not to have a good time – but when Rameau does it I sometimes end up wanting to hit myself over the head with something hard?
And now for something slightly different. It’s Patricia Petibon singing a collection of French, Spanish and English baroque arias and songs. The title of the recording is “new world,” and so it makes sense that we’ve got the English, the French and the Spanish, and via the two excerpts from Les Indes galantes, I guess at least baroque representations of Native Americans. (But if were talking about the colonial world, what about the Dutch? I ask you, what about the Dutch? Then again, I’m not sure that “Patricia Petibon sings the Dutch baroque” is necessarily a winning concept, as far as marketing goes. This not intended as a criticism of Petibon. I would be skeptical even of, say, Dorothea Röschmann and Vesselina Kasarova singing the Dutch baroque, together, in matching dresses, with a halftime performance by Joyce DiDonato. I mean, I’d buy that in in a second – wouldn’t you? – but that is not really an argument for the soundness of the idea.)
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I found myself enjoying Rameau’s music more than I did Lully’s from a few weeks ago. It felt as if there were a little bit more color and variation in the orchestral writing. I noticed this with the woodwinds, e.g. with the bassoons during the ballet of the “Incas” section, as well as in the opening music to “les sauvages” and in bits of “le Turc généreux” — although some day I would like to find a French baroque opera that doesn’t have a “storm” bit in the music or make use of a wind machine. Please?
First of all, a slightly unusual sort of pattern is emerging with regard to university library DVDs of French baroque operas. Every single one I have checked out has been missing the booklet. Other DVDs have their booklets. But these do not. If there is someone collecting them, I would really like to hear the explanation for this.