Munich’s Exceptional Les Indes galantes Succeeds on all Levels: Music, Voices and Dancing

GermanyGermany Rameau, Les Indes galantesMünchner Festspielorchester, Baltasar-Neumann-Chor, Ivor Bolton (conductor), Prinzregententheater, Munich, 24.7. 2016 (JMI)

'Les Indes Galantes' © W. Hösl.
Les Indes galantes © W. Hösl.

Hébé/Zima: Lisette Oropesa
Bellone: Goran Jurić
L’Amour/Zaïre: Ana Quintans
Osman/Ali: Tareq Nazmi
Emilie: Elsa Benoit
Valère/Tacmas: Cyril Auvity
Huáscar /Alvar: François Lis
Phani/Fatime: Anna Prohaska
Carlos/Damon: Mathias Vidal
Adario: John Moore

Direction: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Sets: Anna Viebrock
Costumes: Greta Goiris
Lighting: Michael Bauer
Choreography: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Les Indes galantes is an opéra-ballet, so characteristic of the French Baroque, and was premiered in 1735 in Paris with a display of special effects that were exceptional for the period.  The prologue takes place in a kind of Eden, where Hébé, goddess of youth, and her people enjoy great happiness until the goddess Bellone appears and encourages them to seek glory in war and conquest. The following four acts explore love relationships in areas of European conquest: Turkey, Peru, Persia and North America. In a short epilogue we return to the exaltation of the happy world of Eden, with the goddess of youth at the forefront.

The opera is rarely performed, and this was its Munich premiere. It was staged a few years ago in Toulouse and Bordeaux in a magnificent production by Laura Scozzi, one of the best I’ve experienced in my life. In this new production, under the direction of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, dance plays a very important role.

The opera begins in a school where Hébé, with great dedication, is teaching cultural values. Then the goddess Bellone breaks into the class to proclaim the necessity of war. Laura Scozzi’s staging was so fresh in my mind that I found it hard initially to warm to this new production, but  I ended up getting into the game and being very satisfied. Act I takes place in a Turkish museum with mobile display cases, where the dance group is located. The best is Act II, in a Peruvian church, where Huáscar is not an Incan priest but rather a fundamentalist Christian pastor  ̶  here is where the production really takes off. Acts III and IV are concerned with the modern refugee situation. In Persia, the opera takes place in a camp, while the North American act has to do with the refugees’ desire to enter the country and the authorities’ refusal. The opera finishes with a short epilogue and a happy ending.

What stands out in this production is the dance troupe: twelve amazing dancers who are always on stage and do not stop moving throughout the performance. They also assume the role of extras and continually move the stage props about. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui even has the singers, particularly the women, become part of the ballet group, and I would single out the performances of Lisette Oropesa, Anna Prohaska and Ana Quintans. The stage direction is very well done throughout, and pays great attention to the movement of the chorus. In short, it’s a modern and extremely convincing production, which was enthusiastically received by the audience.

The musical direction was in the hands of Ivor Bolton, who has frequently conducted Baroque opera here since the days when Sir Peter Jonas ran the company. His leadership was superb, one of the cornerstones of the opera’s success. From Act II, I truly enjoyed his conducting and the performance by the Münchner Festspielorchester. The Balthasar-Neumann Chor from Freiburg, which specializes in this type of Baroque work, was excellent.

American soprano Lisette Oropesa was delightful in the role of the goddess Hébé in the Prologue and of Zima in the North American act. Her voice is very attractive, and she’s an excellent singer and actress.

Anna Prohaska was a marvelous interpreter of Phani in the Peru act, and of Fatime in Persia. She always sang beautifully, and moved comfortably on stage.

Portuguese soprano Ana Quintans did superbly as L’Amour in the prologue and Zaïre in the act set in Persia.

Tenor Cyril Auvity is a real guarantee in these French Baroque operas, and he proved it once again, doubling as Valère in Turkey and as Tacmas in Persia.

Elsa Benoit did nicely as Emilie. Bass Goran Jurić gave life to the goddess Bellone and was great fun. Tareq Nazmi was a sonorous Osman in the Turkish act, and reappeared as Ali in the Persian act. François Lis was a great Huáscar, especially as an actor, but was not notable as Alvar in North America. Tenor Matthias Vidal did well as Carlos in Peru and as Damon in North America, although his voice is not especially beautiful. Finally, baritone John Moore was pleasing in the character of Adario in Act IV.

There was no doubt about the audience’s enthusiasm: there were well-deserved bravos for all the artists, including the dance group and stage director.

José M. Irurzun

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