RAMEAU Les Indes Galantes (Bolton)
It’s such a simple solution that it’s hard to believe it has taken this long for the opera world to figure it out. How do you solve a problem like the French Baroque tradition of opéra-ballets? Hire a director-choreographer to blend both elements of the production into a coherent, contemporary whole. Not everything in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s production of Les Indes galantes is completely in focus and not everything in his restless production translates to the limited viewpoint of DVD, but the spirit behind the Bavarian State Opera production is precisely right – Baroque divertissement reinvented as 21st-century political and social meditation, dance and music working together as one.
With its episodic structure and colonial themes, Rameau’s opera is a tough ask for a contemporary audience. No sooner do you find a foothold in one world, or invest in one set of characters, than you are whisked away to the next. Award-winning Belgian choreographer Cherkaoui addresses this by dissolving the divides between the opera’s five worlds, carrying characters across from one episode to the next, and creating a piece that’s more a set of dramatic variations on a theme than a conventional narrative.
The theme? Displacement, otherness and exile. All the usual visual tropes – refugee camps, barbed wire fences, military regimes, uniforms – are present and correct; but, used here as part of a moving collage, a constant flow of images and ideas, choreography and song, they feel less strident, less obviously superimposed on Rameau’s score. It helps that Ivor Bolton’s account is fleet and light of foot. Energising and alert, the swaying delicacy of its many dances (there’s some particularly lovely solo woodwind-playing from the Munich Festival Orchestra) only reinforcing the rare moments of rustic emphasis.
The cast, too, many of whom take multiple roles, is a uniformly fine one. Cyril Auvity is ardent and glowing right to the top of his extraordinary range, first as Valère and then as Tacmas. If his voice is silver-bright, then John Moore’s Adario is all warm gold; what an impressive performance this is from the young American baritone. Ana Quintans and Anna Prohaska share the female laurels, and the dramatic interplay between them offers some of the production’s most touching moments.
This isn’t a show that lends itself naturally to DVD but as a point of reference and a marker for future concept-treatments of French Baroque it’s invaluable.