Les Arts Florissants’ Chaste, Glorious Beauties Lost at Disney Hall


Charpentier, Purcell: Laureates of Le Jardin des Voix, Les Arts Florissants / William Christie (harpsichord and conductor), Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, 7.11.2017. (LV)

CharpentierActéon, H.481
Purcell – Dido and Aeneas, Z.626

In Los Angeles, HIP master William Christie and Les Arts Florissants (LAF) launched a brief swing through the West Coast, though their efforts were lost in the vast confines of a less-than-full Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Christie launched his career on the French Harmonia Mundi label, with audiophile harpsichord recitals and the ensemble Concerto Vocale (with René Jacobs, Konrad Junghänel, and Jaap ter Linden among others). Since the late 1970s, Christie’s body of work has come to define a consistent trademark HIP style based on knowledge, tempered by experience and musicality. Moreover, whether playing in the pit for Purcell’s King Arthur with Alfred Deller or conducting Mozart’s Magic Flute, Christie has exulted in sound.

In fact, when he made his Harmonia Mundi recording of Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, which helped the label break open the United States market, Christie told me that his ideal harpsichord sound was as if he were inside the harpsichord – in other words, color and dynamic range counted for a lot.

In this concert of works by Charpentier and Purcell, he aimed for and achieved the same big sound, and with stage director Sophie Daneman, also aimed for big theatrical experiences in Disney Hall. For Purcell, it worked, but the process of projecting the instrumentalists and the singers lost the intimacy of Charpentier’s charming pastoral effects. That did not stop soprano Élodie Fonnard as Charpentier’s Diane from commanding the stage every time she moved, even before she sang a note. And when those notes came, they were large, secure, soaring, florid, and intoxicating.

Christie and his crew made as good as case as possible for Actéon, although they seemed less interested in its moments of fragile intimacy than in the exuberant pleasures of the chase and the hunting horn. With exactly one oboist, two violinists, one violist, and the aforementioned Dunford, Vizier and Christie, thrilling noise was generated by hunters bounding through the woods after stags. The French, by the largely French-Italian cast, was fluent and sweet.

Purcell’s richly-layered Dido and Aneas, which invites and prospers from deeply personal approaches within practically any overall stylistic framework, was led by mezzo soprano Lea Desandre and baritone Renato Dolcini in the title roles. Both sang with seamless tone and virtuosity, well schooled in the relevant musicology – and both loved munching to the extent that they could, by crouching and stalking and clawing the non-existent scenery. Throughout the cast, the singing was so good and the ensemble work so selfless, that they could have rotated the musicians at will without losing a beat. The singers’ English was often natural and always quite earnest.

As the performance progressed Dido flowed more confidently, encouraged by the audience as the familiar big moments came along. The instrumental interludes – particularly an infectious rhythmic hornpipe – were as richly enjoyable as the Witches’ songs.

There was something special about the French-Italian Desandre. In Actéon, as Charpentier’s Junon, she demonstrated that rare ability to turn her body and face into the character she was singing – so boldly and charismatically at times that it verged on caricature. She was haunted, stark, wickedly powerful. As Purcell’s Dido she was more patient but similarly intense; “When I am laid to earth” was a shattering climax, spiritual as well as theatrical.

Guided by Christie on an arc through Purcell’s miraculous suspensions of time and space (even if they were too loud at times), the six instrumentalists were virtuosos who knew the music inside out; each played both with personal integrity and in total communication with everyone onstage. As the members of the basso continuo always do, theorboist Thomas Dunford and cellist Alix Verzier made all the difference as they magnificently fleshed out Christie’s barely audible harpsichord line.

Daneman’s graceful direction contributed to the splendid effects in both entertainments. A world-class soprano and stage director, she moved her singers behind and among the musicians, while understanding what the former are capable of, and the latter are comfortable with.

Christie will bring the chaste, glorious beauties of his Charpentier-Purcell evening to Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley on November 9 and then to Green Music Center in Sonoma. Despite my reservations, not to be missed, especially in more appropriate acoustics.

Laurence Vittes

Print Friendly



  1. Josè Daniel Ramirez says:

    Thank you Laurence for your insights on this concert. They performed the same program here in Bogotá on Sunday Nov 5. Teatro Mayor was not packed as usual but those of us who went concert loved every minute.

    All the best as always JDR

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018 Blossom Music Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! LA Opera’s 2018/19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Buxton Festival 2018 and its New CEO __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Violinist Liza Ferschtman Celebrates Bernstein’s Centenary in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group to Perform Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Cadogan Hall __________________________________
  • NEW! A Celebration of the Work of Dai Fujikura at Wigmore Hall on 17 February __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB’s 2018 Emerging Dancer will be Chosen at the London Coliseum on 11 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Akram Khan’s Giselle for ENB Can be Seen in Cinemas from 25 April __________________________________
  • NEW! BARRY DOUGLAS IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s Kamara.hu __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H