Opera Lafayette offers Versailles postcards in sound at Kennedy Center

Thu May 03, 2018 at 10:36 am
Mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold. Photo: Charles Plumey.

Mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold. Photo: Charles Plumey.

Opera Lafayette turned to some of its greatest hits for Wednesday’s concert in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Inspired by the Visitors to Versailles exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on view through July 29, the period instrument ensemble and singers gave a concert performance of excerpts from works that visitors to the French royal court might have heard during their stay.

An aria from Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny’s Le Déserteur, played in an instruments-only version, was eclipsed by a much more charming Air de chasse, the two rustic horns and tambourine evoking the origins of the chateau as a hunting lodge. Tenor Aaron Sheehan was all polish and dulcet tone in “Le bonheur est de le répandre” from the composer’s Le roi et le fermier, performed by the company in 2012.

Opera Lafayette’s last performance of an opera by André Grétry was Le Magnifique in 2011. Baritone Victor Sicard made a good case for a revival of the Belgian composer’s Richard, Cœur de Lion with a forthright rendition of the aria “Ô Richard, ô mon Roi,” his robust voice matched by two ethereal flutes.

Excerpts from Gluck’s Armide, performed by Opera Lafayette in 2010, opened with Sheehan’s opulent legato phrasing in “Plus j’observe ces lieux,” introduced by luscious soft strings and an extended solo for flutist Charlie Brink on the breathy traverso. Mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold had a rough start in her Gluck selections, but the well-balanced chorus Gallery Voices produced an airy, refined sound, including some minor solos led by their artistic director, soprano Rosa Lamoreaux.

Representing Lully, arguably the greatest of all French court composers of opera, was Acis et Galatée, performed in a complete concert version by Opera Lafayette in 2005. In these excerpts as Galatée, the sea nymph separated from her lover Acis by a violent cyclops, Reinhold’s voice blossomed in an extraordinary way. In the plaintive aria “Enfin j’ai dissipé la crainte,” begging Acis to return, her tone broadened into a full swath of sound filled with color.

Sicard blustered with god-like anger as the offended Neptune in “Je sors de mes grottes profondes.” Sheehan and Reinhold matched beautifully for an all too brief moment in “Que votre sang se change,” as Acis returned, now transformed into a river.

Lully was renowned for his extended passacailles, pieces based on an ostinato bass line, a form enabling a hypnotic suspension of the normal rules of harmony as variation after variation spins out of the bass line. This work ends with a remarkable example, “Sous ses lois l’Amour veut qu’on jouisse,” in which the few vocal lines are a mere ornament to the magnificent writing for the instrumental ensemble.

The orchestra responded with its most unified, accomplished playing of the evening, led with panache and fire by artistic director Ryan Brown. Especially impressive solos came from concertmaster Claire Jolivet, who is leaving the ensemble and returning to her native Paris this summer. Equally fine were principal violist Kyle Miller and second violinist Christof Richter, as well as Margaret Owens and Geoffrey Burgess, who had switched out their oboes for recorders, truly creating, in the words of the libretto, “un bonheur qui jamais ne finisse” (a bliss that might never end).

After another hunt-inspired piece, “A la chasse, à la chasse” from Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, with more boisterous horn playing from Todd Williams and Linda Dempf, the audience enjoyed drinks at intermission, offered by the company. On the second half Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide, curator of the Met’s exhibition, gave an insightful virtual tour of some of the artworks in the show.

As nightcap, the soloists offered three short works accompanied by Baroque guitarist Brandon Acker, a reflection of the more intimate performances that were also part of life at Versailles. Reinhold’s intense rendition of an abridged version of Barbara Strozzi’s solo cantata “Che si può fare,” the poignant descending ostinato bass line recalling Lully’s passacaille, was a delight.

The program will be repeated 7 p.m. Thursday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. operalafayette.org

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