Gallant Indians, Worth a Trip to Toulouse

FranceFrance Jean-Philippe Rameau, Les Indes Galantes: Soloists, Les Talens Lyriques, Choeur du Capitole, Christophe Rousset (conductor). Capitole, Toulouse, 6.5.2012 (JMI)

New Production: Théâtre du Capitole in coproduction with Opera National de Bordeaux and Staatstheater Nürnberg
Direction: Laura Scozzi
Sets: Natacha Le Guen de Kerneizon
Costumes: Jean-Jacques Delmotte
Lighting: Ludovic Bouaud
Videos: Stephane Broc
Choreography: Laura Scozzi

Hébé, Phani, Fatime: Hélène Guilmette
Amour, Roxane, Zima: Julia Novikova
Emilie, Atalide: Judith Van Wanroij
Valère, Tacmas: Kenneth Tarver
Huáscar: Nathan Berg
Osman: Vittorio Prato
Bellone, Alvar: Aimery Lefèvre
Carlos, Damon: Cyril Auvity
Adario: Thomas Dolié

Les Indes Galantes © Patrice Nin

The operas by Jean-Philippe Rameau are little known outside France, and less often still performed. And on the rare occasion that they are, invariably so in concert versions. In fact, they are not too frequently shown in France either, except Paris and a few other cities like Toulouse.

Les Indes Galantes, Rameau’s second opera, is not a real masterpiece, but it contains a lot of attractive music. The lack of dramatic unity—a prologue and four rather isolated “entrées”—and a poor libretto make it very difficult for this work to succeed as musical theater. In Toulouse we have witnessed a true miracle. The public has genuinely enjoyed the opera, thanks to the imagination, originality, and good taste of the unique stage direction and a magnificent musical interpretation. If ever an opera performance was worth going all the way to Toulouse for, this is it!

Les Indes Galantes belongs to the genre of opera-ballet so characteristic of French Baroque, and was premiered in 1735 in Paris. The prologue takes place in a kind of Eden where Hebé, Goddess of Youth, enjoys happiness of her people, dedicated to the natural pleasures. That is: until the God Bellone appears and encourages them to seek glory in war and conquest, while the goddess Amour sends three representatives to witness what happens. The four entrées offer scenes of the European conquests of distant lands: Turkey, Peru, Persia, and North America. Excuses to engage in musical flights of fancy, full of exoticism. The opera ends with a short epilogue in which we return to the exaltation of the happy world of Eden, with the Goddess of Youth back at the helm.

The Capitole offers a new production by stage director and choreographer Laura Scozzi. Hers is one of the most original, imaginative, and fun production that I have seen in years. She takes risks, and they all pay off. She moves the action of the four entrées to modern times and uses every opportunity to present today’s problems, without forgetting to instill her good sense of humor, so well suited to Rameau’s music. The prologue takes place in a lush paradise where we witness a ballet in full nudity. All in paradisaically good taste, though. The set changes are a marvel of imagination, accompanied by excellent video projections through which we travel by plane from one country to another. We meet a (Turkish) human trafficker on an aquatically themed stage and Huascar the drug lord (in Peru), with the natives at his service. The Persian act focuses on the subjugation of women in that culture without ever being heavy-handed and in the famous final act about American savages Mrs. Scozzi presents a capitalist society destroying natural resources, saved by her touch of irony. Then it’s back to Eden and its nude inhabitants.

Laura Scozzi does all that while remaining at the service of the music. Like so many recent production, Mrs. Scozzi adds new non-speaking rôles: three cleverly deployed representatives of Amour, whose every appearance put a smile on the faces of the spectators.

Canadian soprano Hélène Guilmette’s had a remarkable performance in her three different characters. She is a light soprano, with an attractive voice and figure who sings with gusto. Julia Novikova is another light soprano who covered three characters, the most important of them was that of the attractively covered Zima in the American act. Dutch soprano Judith Van Wanroij particularly impressed as Emilie in the Turkish act.

American tenor Kenneth Tarver has a pleasant, rather small voice that was well suited for his characters. Cyril Auvity is a very high tenor voice without remarkable qualities; Canadian Nathan Berg was an unattractively voiced Huascar. Amery Lefèvre, Thomas Dolie, and Vittorio Prato didn’t let their various characters down.

The other ingredient of this great success was Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques. Rousset follows the path William Christie had set the 90’s, and remains much more faithful to the original edition than the one Paul Dukas prepared at the beginning of the century. Mr. Rousset has offered the so-called Toulouse version, based on a manuscript found at the Conservatory of that city. It does not contain many changes, except in the Persian act where a quartet disappears and an Italian aria for the protagonist Fatima appears: A rewarding showpiece of great vocal difficulty. The coordination between pit and stage was superb and Rousset kept things alive at all times, and in exceptional orchestral sound. Not surprising, really, because it is always a pleasure to attend a performance of a baroque opera by Christophe Rousset and his orchestra.

José Mª Irurzun