Sunday, April 30, 2017

Le Temple de la Gloire, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, PBO Chorus, New York Baroque Dance Company and Many Individuals

I saw the first performance of PBO & Friends' short run of Rameau's Le Temple de la Gloire, with libretto by Voltaire, on Friday night, April 28. Cal Performances presented it at Zellerbach Hall, one of their venues on the UCB Campus. 

Oh, man - it was a huge amount of fun. I've seen a fair amount of Baroque opera, most of it Handel with several Monteverdi productions thrown in for good measure. This was my first experience of French Baroque opera; not only that, French Baroque opera presented with an intention of getting somewhere near French Baroque production style. The Handel and Monteverdi operas were all presented in varying degrees of modern style, the better to avoid a completely static production. This was...different, in good ways.

The PBO forces had Baroque-style sets, Baroque-style ballet, and Baroque-style movement. That is, the singers used a vocabulary of fairly stylized physical gestures; the dancers didn't get very far off the ground. The dance vocabulary was more limited than today's ballet and didn't call for the same extreme physical technique. The sets were a hoot; an assortment of painted flats flown in and moved in and out from the sides.

Aaron Sheehan as Apollo in PBO’s Le Temple de la Gloire, by Rameau. Photo by Frank Wing.

The music was terrific and mostly very beautifully performed; yay, Nicholas McGegan, who brings life and joy to all he conducts. I loved the dancing and the dancers from the NY Baroque Dance Company, and there was a lot more dancing than you'd find in more recent, say, 19th c., operas.

The singing was mostly excellent, with some variation of voice size and flexibility. I especially liked soprano Chantal Santon-Jeffery, who has a big, glamorous voice, Philippe-Nicolas Martin, who has a gorgeous baritone voice and would make a fine Chorebe, and Camille Ortiz-Lafont, whose dark and beautiful mezzo lent considerable character to Act 2.

Artavazd Sargsyan as Bacchus and Camille Ortiz-Lafont as Erigone in PBO’s Le Temple de la Gloire, by Rameau. Photo by Frank Wing.

As for the plot...well, there isn't exactly a plot. It's about how to be a good ruler and be admitted to the Temple of Glory. During the opera, three different rulers try to gain entrance, and two fail. This was aimed directly at Louis XV, the French king of the time. It didn't matter much, and of course there was the fabulous dancing ostrich. (You can see photos of her on Twitter; thank you, PBO! And thank you, Cal Performances, for access to the press photos.)

PBO’s Nic McGegan with NYBDC’s Catherine Turocy (center in black) with the cast of Le Temple de la Gloire by Rameau. Photo by Frank Wing. 

The curtain call photo above gives the best idea of the style and scope of the sets. I believe that if you click it, you'll be able to see a larger version.

I'm very glad to have seen this, and let me note that somehow I hear a through-line in the vocal declamation from Rameau to Gluck to Berlioz. I hope to see more Rameau, and this particular public Twitter exchange suggests that we just might:

Let's just say that I hope the Board of Directors of San Francisco Opera was in attendance at Le Temple de la Gloire and that they agree with their General Director that SFO needs to stage some Rameau.
Other Commentary (Yes, I know the last several are coming):
A preview by Georgia Rowe, Mercury-News; another by Charlise Tiee at KQED; another, by Lou Fancher, at SFCV.


Mike A. said...

Thanks for the review. Yes, it was magical night. I saw it on Friday. I LOVED the music, the lavish costumes, the staging, the conducting, the orchestra, the choir. I still can't fathom how explicit the lyrics were, and the fact that Louis XV didn't get Voltaire punished for that. (He did lose his court job, I think).

I'm a bit disappointed with the voices, especially the ladies. The trio of muses in the Prologue was especially pretty hard to hear. It's a pity since with better voices, this would be my absolute favorite performance.

I agree with you about the dances. I loved that the subtle dances actually enhanced the glorious music instead of distracting it. I can easily see the Bacchus act turned into vulgar spectacle in the hand of contemporary directors.

This was my second opéra-ballet that I saw live, the first was Campra's "Les Fêtes Vénitiennes" at Brooklyn Academy of Music last year, conducted by William Christie and directed by Robert Carsen. The music was from 1710, some 35 years older than Temple of Glory. If I may compare, I prefer the full-blown traditional Baroque setting as performed last weekend than the modern treatment. That Campra had lavish costumes too, albeit irreverent, but the prologue began with dancers in modern costume that were trapped in Venice and changed costumes, completely changed the intention of the Prologue. However, the playing of Les Arts Florissants under WIlliam Christie really saved the day! :)

I can't get enough of opéra-ballets! Next to come, in case you are not aware, Boston Early Music Festival will be staging another Campra, "Le Carnaval de Venise" (from 1699), in June, starring Karina Gauvin and Amanda Forsythe, among others. It will be a night of traditional Baroque staging too (I saw their Almira a couple years back, and that was stunning!) Will report it here if you're not going ;)

Chanterelle said...

FYI, link to Janos Gereben's review:

Lisa Hirsch said...

Ahaha, not surprised that you are on his mailing list. :-)

I will put a clickable link in the article when I get to my office.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Mike A, I think that the trio of Muses came from the chorus and that they are not full-time opera singers. I was happy with the singing; the voices all came over well in Zellerbach.

I wish I could get to Boston this year, but there's no way; the festival is between two out-of-town trips I'm already committed to.

Mike A. said...

Ah, that makes sense. It's hard to see all the singers from where I sit that night.

Yes, this is the primetime of the year for festivals all over. I manage to append that Boston show at the end of my trip to weeklong Halle Handel festival, which I'm super excited for. A full week of Baroque music, haha!!

Are you going to operas too in your trips? Looking forward to hearing the reports!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Groan. I have three out of town trips in the next five weeks, which I can hardly believe. Two are for work and are both to Seattle, where I believe I will manage to miss everything worth hearing. One is for family stuff to NY/NJ. The Met season will be over, but there is "Rheingold" at the NY Phil while I am in town, with an interesting cast and Alan Gilbert conducting. I need to check whether there are other concerts worth attending while I am in town, though I will be busy with various family stuff.

Mike A. said...

Sorry to hear about that. Yes, that "Rheingold" is very interesting, at least on paper. And no intermission!!! Well, if you need more Rameau, Opera Lafayette is doing "Les sauvages" (billed as Part IV of his most famous opera-ballet "Les indes Galantes") at the "other" Met. ( This is my favorite part of Les indes Galantes and I'm sorry to miss this. :)