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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Opera Review: No Bunnies, Just Talent

Les Arts Florissants at Alice Tully Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Less is more: Les Arts Florissants music director William Christie.

As part of their 2010 BAM appearance, Les Arts Florissants staged Henry Purcell's The Fairy Queen with elaborate costumes, sets, and bunny suits. For 2011, the French period ensemble offered two performances at Alice Tully Hall, as part of the TullyScope Festival designed to highlight the versatility of Lincoln Center's mid-sized concert hall.

Friday night's performance featured Anacréon and Pigmaliom, two actes de ballet by Jean-Philippse Rameau. This performance was more like a concert, the men in in tuxedos and the women in evening gowns. The only prop was a single white silk scarf. The only set: a comfortable looking modern chair. The minimal trappings contributed to the dramatic intensity of the performances. Nevertheless, they were subservient to the atheltic vocalism of the cast, and the razor-sharp conducting by William Christie.

Mr. Christie built his reputation as a conductor and interpreter of period works, using genuine and replica "authentic instruments. Violins are strung with cat-gut and played standing up. The flautists blow on wooden instruments, and the oboes and bassoons have finger-holes without the hardware adornments of modern instruments. The conductor drew a warm, rich sound from his little band, and could be seen lip-syncing along with the singers as he doubled in the role of prompter.

Anacréon and Pigmalion are based on Greek myths, a common subject for 18th-century French operas. Both works are short on plot but long on inventive music, using that flexible blend of chamber orchestra and accompanied dialogue that made Rameau one of the trtue innovators of his day. Each work also emphasizes dance. The stage of Alice Tully Hall is not suited to complex choreography. But these ballet sequences contain some of the most memorable music in the score.

Anacréon starred bass Alain Buet in the title role, as a wine-fuelled poet who runs afoul of the Maenads (wild women who follow Bacchus) in his attempts to woo a Priestess, played by the exotic Emanuelle de Negri. This work is long on music and short on plot, and featured agile singing from the leads as well as engaging dance members. It was also a small pleasure to watchgr Mr. Christie lead from the stage, acting as conductor and prompter as he lip-synced every word of the text.

Tenor Ed Lyon is a star performer in Les Arts Florissants. He essayed the title role in Pigmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with his creation (ensuring a career for George Bernard Shaw, Alan Lerner, and countless critics.) This entertaining work featured Mr. Lyon's sure, agile instrument. He spends most of his time singing about love, so it is fitting that this ardent music be performed with his ideal blend of passion and grace. Ms. de Negri portrayed the Statue with balletic movements. The two singers had good chemistry onstage, even engaging in some kinky blindfold play in the opera's light-hearted, final pages.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.