Voices in a Garden

United StatesUnited States Rameau, Monteclair, Dauvergne, Grandval, Gluck, Campra:Le Jardin de Monsieur Rameau,” Les Arts Florissants, William Christie (Director/Conductor), Harvey Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, 19.4.2013 (SSM)

Le Jardin des Voix:
Daniela Skorka, soprano
Emilie Renard, mezzo-soprano
Benedetta Mazzucato, mezzo-soprano
Zachary Wilder, tenor
Victor Sicard, baritone
Cyril Costanzo, bass

Since 2002, on a biennial basis, William Christie has held auditions to select a small group of promising vocalists for Le Jardin des Voix. Ultimately they will either join Les Arts Florissants or move on with impressive credentials. Those who are accepted into the program receive intensive singing lessons and training by Christie and others in preparation for joining Les Arts Florissants on a worldwide tour. This changing group of young singers made its fifth appearance in New York to perform a program fittingly entitled “Le Jardin de Monsieur Rameau.”

As a clear sign of the growing interest in this project, BAM changed venues this year from the smaller Harvey Theater to the main building, the Harvey Gilman Opera House. This was a tradeoff: some intimacy was lost but it enabled a larger audience to hear the single performance. However, due to the fact that there were still two performances to run at the Gilman of Charpentier’s David and Jonathas, the vocalists had to cope with the wooden room that serves as the opera’s set.

The soloists, all well-versed in Baroque vocal style, gave alternately serious and comic readings from Rameau and the other composers. The first selection, from the prologue of Monteclair’s Jephté, featured a sampling of various musical elements, starting with an overture in the style of Lully: slow dotted and double dotted rhythms, followed by a return to the beginning theme. It is not usual but Christie took the repeats on the overture. A dance movement follows leading in to the first aria, which is sung to the tune of the rigaudon. The catchy rigaudon theme, unusually, continues through the next aria as well, closing with a sweet flute-driven chorus.

The most charming and droll aria of the evening had to be Grandval’s cantata “Rien du tout.” Nicolas Racot de Grandval was a contemporary of Rameau, known more for his dozens of plays than his musical works. The cantata, winsomely sung by mezzo Emilie Renard, parodies his contemporaries, including Monteclair. The singer tells the audience that she has grown weary of music, unable to satisfy everyone’s differing taste. Asking the audience to request an aria that is serious, comic, languorous or chromatic, she sings each word and is accompanied by the orchestra in that particular style. She then sings an aria is each style but becomes more and more frustrated because no one will tell her what they want. The cantata ends with the lines:

Not knowing your tastes,
I shall follow my own.
Have someone else sing for you;
I shall sing nothing at all (rien du tout).

Renard did a great job singing and acting and caught the exact spirit of every phrase.

Arias from Gluck take us solidly into the 18th century. One normally thinks of Gluck as the stark, dramatic and somewhat emotionally cool composer of such operas as Orfeo ed Euridice, Armide and Iphigénie en Aulide. It comes then as a surprise that he wrote this

Vaudevillian opera, L’Ivrogne corrigé. The theme of a recovering alcoholic is not something you might expect from this composer, the champion of reformist opera. Gluck complained about the silliness of Baroque opera and wanted to strip it of over-decoration and exaggerated actions: to, in fact, go back to the purity of the ancient Greeks. The group nonetheless did their best with this too-broad comedy, hamming it up a bit and doing so with palpable enjoyment.

Excerpts from another opera whose name was stolen for an early music group, Europa Galante, followed after the intermission. This opera by Campra is considered to be the first of a genre called “opéra-ballets.” As Gluck later rebelled against the overly ornate and fantastical operas of his time, Campra’s Europa Galante avoids exotic tales of love and war. Instead it presents a series of portraits of courtship in various countries. The entire cast plays a role here, and again the singers’ voices and acting were professional in a way that seems more solid and well-balanced than most other performances of Baroque theater and music.

Of all the Rameau arias that followed one stands out and that is the vocal quartet‘Tendre Amour.” This aria gains its power from falling somewhere between a canon and a chaconne. Each voice comes in as in a round. It was meltingly sung with an unearthly harmony and just the right intonation.

We have to thank William Christie for his foresight and dedication, for looking towards the future and the continuation of this premier company.

Stan Metzger