Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Les Arts Florissants, La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers
Sunhae Im (La Poésie/Daphné), Olga Pitarch (La Musique/Enone/Prosperine), Sophie Daneman (La Paix/Euridice), Kátalin Karolyi (L'Architecture/Aréthuse), Cyril Auvity (La Peinture/Ixion), Jean-Yves Ravoux (Tantale), Nicolas Rivenq (La Discorde/Apollon/Tityre), João Fernandes (Un Guerrier/Pluton), Paul Agnew ('Orphée)
Les Arts Florissants
William Christie (conductor), Vincent Boussard (semi-staging director)
William Christie's ensemble Les Arts Florissants has in its twenty-five years achieved a similar reputation for style, quality and pure enjoyment to that of Glyndebourne, the opera festival run by the unrelated Christie family in Sussex, but in a third of the time, and with support from public funds that suggests an un-English respect for the performing arts. And Les Arts Flo come to London regularly -- you don't have to take a day out to enjoy them. Although their repertoire ranges throughout seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, from Monteverdi in Venice to Mozart in Vienna, their focus and forte has been in theatrical music associated with the French court. They have done as much for Lully and Rameau as anyone, but Marc-Antoine Charpentier, more of an outsider than Lully, less of a conscious innovator than Rameau, must be the epitome of their repertoire: stylish, individual and more serious than you'd think.
Charpentier's Les Arts Florissants is an apparently slight work, an allegory of the arts flourishing in the peace granted by the military genius and wisdom of Louis XIV, and a transparent but unsuccessful bid for a job at court. Yet the thunder of Discord which interrupts the arts at play is genuinely sinister, like the aspiration to evil of the diabolical Abramane in Rameau's Zoroastre --Nicolas Rivenq was suitably violent without being blusterous. The music of Peace, sung with style and feeling by a very distinguished-looking Sophie Daneman, is elegant but far from commonplace. The arts themselves are a bit infantile, their insubstantial music enacted in a school-room setting in Vincent Broussard's semi-staging, until brought into harmony by Peace. Peace may make life easier for the institutions of the arts, but this performance also made you feel that both are necessary for full humanity in the face of war and the violence of life.
Le Descente d'Orphée is also about the power and importance of music in the face of death. More or less mid-way between Monteverdi and Gluck in date, it consists of a pastoral first act similar to Monteverdi's, though with a more dramatic and shocking death, and a fantastic second act in which Orpheus, accompanied by a viol duo, enchants the denizens of the underworld, with the help of Prospering, who is moved to charm Pluto into mercy, again as in Monteverdi. But there is no third act or looking back: the short opera ends with a brief celebration of the departure of Orpheus and Eurydice. In a way Orphée looks less into the depths than Les Arts Florissants, but the texture is richer and the result very moving.