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Agile singers and innovative choreography invigorate Rameau’s “ballet-opera”

Opéra de Nancy et de Lorraine
12/17/2004 -  & December 18, 19, 21, 22, 23
Claude Seurat: Le Triomphe de l'humanité
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Pigmalion

Cyril Auvity (Pigmalion); Valérie Gabail (Céphise); Cassandre Berthon (La Statue); Magali Léger (L'Amour)
Hervé Niquet (musical direction); Karole Armitage (stage direction, choreography, video); David Salle, Clifton Taylor (set design); Peter Speliopoulos (costumes); Stefano Paba (dramaturgy)
Orchestre et choeur du Concert Spirituel; Centre choréographique national - Ballet de Lorraine

With the lyrical and smooth construction of his works, it’s strange to imagine that Jean-Philippe Rameau was the cause of such controversy during his lifetime. Indeed, both his departure from Lullian tradition and his involvement in the “querelle des bouffons” kept Rameau at the center of attention after arriving in Paris in 1722 and presenting his first-ever opera over a decade later at the age of 50. Yet, in listening to his works for theater, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Rameau and his late-flourishing opera career were essentially forgotten once Gluck came along. For many concertgoers today, Rameau’s music itself, while arguably important to the tradition of the genre, may not alone guarantee an engaging evening at the opera.

For the Opéra de Nancy’s production of Rameau’s “acte de ballet,” however, what could be a boring short opera with dance interludes becomes a pleasant experience. The 40-minute piece was paired with “Le Triomphe de l’humanité,” a cantata for two sopranos, chorus and orchestra written by Claude Seurat to commemorate the 1755 inauguration of the statue of Louis XV in Nancy.

While the Seurat cantata is specific to the region and would be of little interest elsewhere, the cast and choreography of “Pigmalion” are the primary reasons to see it when it travels to the Théâtre du Châtelet in June. The singers – comprised of just three sopranos and a tenor – boast vocal prowess, handsome looks and impressive CVs. But what matters most for this fusion of dance and opera is their ability to move onstage while singing adeptly.

With their delicate features and voices, these three sopranos might credit their additional musical and theater training with bringing added polish to their performances. All have found their niche in early music, but all have also undergone unconventional formations: Valérie Gabail (jazz and musical comedy), Magali Léger (dance) and Cassandre Berthon (violon). Not to be outdone by his multi-talented female company, Cyril Auvity exhibits a luminous tone and admirable acting skills that convince the audience he is truly pining for the beautiful statue he has just created.

The orchestra, while lively, did not put in a crisp performance. The corps de ballet wasn’t always quite coordinated, but they did Karole Armitage’s fine choreography justice. The costumes and lighting were commendable, as both noticeably enriched the mood of the performance. Finally, the set – a simple but effective mixture of elegant light fixtures, hanging strings of beads and mirrors – is nicely complimented by discrete background videos of celestial and nature images.

On the whole, the production is a light and well-balanced look at how a production team can effectively bring Baroque opera to modern audiences.

Alexandra Day



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