I saw *Rameau, maître à danser* at BAM on 3/1/19. It was performed by the French Baroque opera group Les Arts Florissants. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen them six or seven times and they always knock me out, they play with such elegance and force. Their founder and primary conductor is William Christie - - he was born in Buffalo, but honey, he has put Buffalo BEHIND HIM. He built his career in France and became a French citizen in 1995. He’s done such a great service to the world of music: he’s excavated these fascinating, glorious French Baroque pieces and truly brought them back to life.
My friend and coworker Kreg often asks me what I’m doing over the weekend - - I told him I was seeing this and he asked me to explain what French Baroque music was like. I said it was similar to Handel, but more refined. It has drama, but a more refined kind of drama. That had been my experience with the French Baroque pieces I’d heard by LAF in the past, but these two pieces weren’t overly refined. They had a boldness, and in Christie’s conducting, a thrilling looseness, a clumsy vitality. Or shall I say a vital clumsiness? In either case, it was a pleasant surprise.
The performance was titled *Rameau, maître à danser,* which means “Rameau, dance master.” You would expect it to be heavy on dance, right? It wasn’t, not so much. The dancing (choreography by the late Françoise Denieau, restaged by Gilles Poirier) was delicious, it just didn’t have the central role I thought it would have. It was the singing and especially the orchestra who took center stage.
There were two short opera ballets on the program, both by Jean-Philippe Rameau: *Daphnis et Églé* and *La Naissaince d’Osiris.* I thought the first was more successful, the second seemed a little dopey. This might have been because the two lead singers in the first, tenor Reinoud Van Mechelen as Daphnis and soprano Élodie Fonnard as Églé, were juicier than the singers in the second. It was the difference between whole milk and skim milk (how do you like that for a Wisconsin reference). Here's a photo of Van Mechelen and Fonnard, with Christie behind them, conducting.
The staging was done by Sophie Daneman, and it was minimal - - she simply told the story and gave precedence to the music. Thank you. The costume design by Alain Blanchot was divine, lots of cotton- and linen-based peasanty looks, with the occasional touch of velvet. One male dancer was wearing a cotton blouse in Wallis blue with voluminous, billowing sleeves. It's this guy in the front, though it looks like he might have spilled some orange juice on his right arm...
Do they have that in my size? I would totally wear it to work, with a dark green silk tie, a pair of muted brown trousers, and a brown leather belt and shoes. I’d need to do something high style with my hair. I’m open to suggestions.
[Photos by Philippe Delval, courtesy of the BAM Press Office]