Sunday, 19 October 2014

Rossini William Tell, WNO, Oxford


Rossini William Tell  (Guillaume Tell) from the Welsh National Opera at the New Theatre Oxford, last night. Companies that tour, like WNO, have to strike a balance between excellence in-house and portability on the road. Even when a production is designed tto travel, it's not easy to make it fit every venue, every time, especially on one-night stops.  A lifetime ago, I used to sit up in the gods. Now I can afford posh tickets but I'm fussier. You can't win. Next time, I'm going to Cardiff.

The New Theatre wasn't built for opera, so the orchestra is so close to the audience that it overwhelms. Had this been a sublime musical experience it might not have mattered so much, but this performance, conducted by Andrew Greenwood (instead of Carlo Rizzi) was pretty ropey. The singing wasn't much, either. The orchestra and much the same cast had been singing for four nights in a row. It would be asking far too much of them, as human beings, not to sound tired. In any case, Arnold is one of the most difficult parts in the repertoire, such a killer role that it's hard to cast at the best of times. All respect to Barry Banks for a good enough performance. By putting 'Asile héréditaire' two and a half hours into the performance, Rossini was expecting superhuman effort. No audience should expect a singer to jeopardize his voice for one night.  I discreetly removed myself after the Third Act, leaving with good memories of Banks and Gisella Stille's moving duet, where they sing alone together, surrounded only by atmospheric, beautiful lighting. A lovely image, which reinforces the idea that Guillaume Tell might indeed be an opera better suited to the imagination than to staging.

Since the Royal Opera House is doing a new production of Guillaume Tell next spring (with Pappano, who is brilliant) , and we've recently heard the Munich production (with divine, unequalable Bryan Hymel)  this is a good time to be thinking about how Rossini's music can be recreated visually on stage. The instructions for the First Act militate against easy depiction. Many small groups of happy peasants mill about doing what happy peasants are supposed to do.  Rossini's music is much too beautiful to spoil with fussy kitsch. Short episodes are great for dancing, though they don't sustain theatrical cohesion. David Pountney uses a backdrop of glaciers. One newspaper critic sniffily dismissed this as depicting Antarctica, not the forests of Switzerland. But aren't there glaciers in Switzerland?  In any case, a friend identified the backdrop as the painting by Caspar David Friedrich The Sea of Ice which also references the boat in which William Tell sails  across the lake.

The Alps kept Switzerland independent. They're much more than decoration.  Many operas set in the Alps, like Catalani's La Wally, are hard to stage because the Alps are just hard to beat in terms of spectacle. Much wiser, I think, to focus on what the music suggests - wide open skies, endless vistas and the fresh, pure air of freedom. In Rossini's music, we can hear local colour, even the suggestion of yodel, carrying across vast distances, wild mountain winds and craggy "hiking" rhythms.  The ideas in William Tell are so noble that the opera shouldn't be reduced to tourist kitsch. Pierre Audi's staging for Amsterdam let the music tell the story! But that's assuming opera audiences actually like music, which isn't always the case.


photos : Robert Hubert Smith, courtesy WNO

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Zelenka - Melodrama to St Wenceslaus

Collegium Vocale 1704 perform Zelenka's Melodrama to St Wenceslaus from the 2013 Herne Early Music Days Festival. It is available now on BBC Radio 3. Melodrama to St Wenceslaus, or, to use its original Latin title Sub olea pacis et palma virtutis conspicua orbi regia Bohemiae Corona: Melodrama de Sancto Wenceslao (Under the Olive Tree of Peace and the Palm Tree of Virtue the Crown of Bohemia Splendidly Shines Before the Whole World: Melodrama to Saint Wenceslaus), ZWV 175,V " Jan Dismus Zelenka (1679-1745) was a contemporary of Bach , Monteverdi and Rameau. By baroque standards, the orchestra is huge, and there's singing and spoken dialogue. No expenses spared: it was evidently a piece meant to impress and make a power statement. It was commisioned by the Jesuit order for the occasion of a visit, in 1723, from the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI.  By praising the virtues of the medieval King Wenceslaus,  hero and saint of Bohemia, the Jesuits might have been making a political point: don't mess with us, don't mess with Bohemia.
The piece is fascinating because it's not religious music, nor is it an opera, but an early music drama. The performance is wonderful, full of brightness and energy - the spirit of a confident era. Highly recommended as this was recorded live at an early music festival and isn't available on CD.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Peter Sellars The Indian Queen (not Purcell)

Currently on BBC Radio 3, the broadcast of Peter Sellars' The Indian Queen, recorded in Madrid last year, where it received its world premiere. Don't mistake it for Henry Purcell's The Indian Queen.  What remains of Purcell's opera lasts less than an hour: Sellars' The Indian Queen runs four times as long. He's padded the music out with music from other Purcell works, and readings from a modern novel.

In principle, there's nothing wrong with that. Pasticcio was a perfectly normal practice in an age where audiences were happy to hear hot numbers they'd heard before revived and incorporated into new operas. The real secret lies in getting the mix right, so the ingredients blend in a coherent whole. Glyndebourne's The Fairy Queen (more here) is a brilliant example. It recreates the ebullient spirit of baroque imagination in glorious spectacle.  The Met's The Enchanted Island (more here) was another good example, though it would have been more appreciated if it had preniered in Europe, where the style is better understood.  But Sellars' The Indian Queen unfortunately doesn't come remotely close to that level of inventive sophistication. 

For one thing, Sellars wants to create a mega drama about the Conquistadors and the indigenous empires of Central America. It's a wonderful subject, which would lend itself well to dramatic interpretation.  But Purcell's Indian Queen was pure fantasy, describing a much earlier period about which Purcell and his contemporaries had little real knowledge.  These "Indians"  were English people in fancy dress. Purcell's Indian Queen is no more about Latin America than is Indian Queens, the village in Cornwall.  Why conflate the two?  English baroque sounds very different to Spanish baroque. Spanish baroque is hardly unknown - there's even a hybrid genre of works written in Latin America. Why use English Protestant church music when there's so much Spanish and Central/South American church music to be had?  It just sounds wrong. If Sellars wants to explore ideas of cultural collision what could be more appropriate?  The Spanish colonized the Americas by imposing their religion on empires with quite complex cultures of their own because they didn't know any better. By imposing Purcell onto a subject Purcell had nothing to do with, Sellars is using the same kind of unthinking colonialist values the Conquistadors imposed on the natives. In the 21st century, when millions of people are multiracial and multicultural, it's a regressive concept.

For his narrative, Sellars uses the novel The Lost Chronicles of Terra Firma by Rosario Aguilar, published in 1992. which describes the period from the perspective of the women of the time. Most history is written from a west-centric world view following the assumed superiority of male values, and white male in particular. Modern historians are much more aware of "the Crowd in History" and of non-western cultures. The New York Times article (read here) suggests that Sellars' knowledge of the period and of the issues is fairly limited, but using the novel is, in principle, a good idea. Unfortunately, the texts are delivered with a kind of hysterical agit prop.  The actress shouting the lines uses the same cadential sequences all the time, like a machine gone mad, spitting out sounds instead of meaning. Perhaps this is supposed to suggest shamanic incantation, but it's counterproductive to real emotion. Within a very short time her voice becomes strained and metallic, so grating that it's almost too painful to listen to, which defeats the whole purpose of the exercise.

The other performances are perfunctory. The conductor doesn't have much feel for Purcell, and the music feels tediously drawn-out and ponderous. The choruses , hampered by the disjuncture between English music and the savagery of the story they're singing about, sound lost. The soloists are adequate rather than impressive, with two exceptions: a strong Hunahpu, Mayan hero/Trickster twin deity in Vince Yi, but a Don Pedro de Alvarado with such wide vibrato that it's annoying (Noah Stewart). When Sellars' The Indian Queen comes to the ENO in London next year, things should improve. Lawrence Cummings is conducting, and he's good, though that might emphasize the Englishness of Purcell, further divorcing music from subject. We'll have the same Indian Queen (Julia Bullock), a new Don Pedro, but worryingly, the same rabid narrator. Live, at the ENO, we'll be spared the horrors of the close-ups evident in the film of the Madrid performance. Nearly every performer has the exact same expression of awed surprise. It's almost as if they were all wearing masks. Is this a remake of Sellar's Guilio Cesare ? They move like automatons. It's been a long time since I've seen acting this bad. Perhaps the problem is that Sellars takes himself far too seriously. But I guess the ENO needs something to bring the punters in.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

How to market Mozart to the masses

Sarah X Mills shows how Mozart can be pitched to reach millions ! She's wonderful, I think. Trouble is, some politicians and bureaucrats might take this to heart.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Plácido Domingo Verdi I due Foscari Royal Opera House

"Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo" someone said when the Royal Opera House Verdi I due Foscari was announced.  There are very good reasons for doing so. First, Plácido Domingo is an icon. Even past his prime, he has such presence that he can present a role with style. When he does retire, we can look back and say we were there.  Secondly, Francesco Foscari is a role that doesn't present extreme vocal demands. Domingo didn't go much out of range. Foscari is an old man, worn out by tragedy and the intrigues of state. Sounding pinched and dry is part of the character. Domingo knows how to marshall his reserves. At the end, the old man rages against the city and the fates that have destroyed him. Mellifluous sounds would be inappropriate. Domingo sings with such intensity that it feels like a statement. We shouldn't shaft old Doges because they aren't what they were, any more than we should shaft Father Figures like Plácido Domingo. The Council of Ten might be ungrateful, but I, for one, treasured his performance.

Domingo's presence in Los Angeles honours the city, just as a great Doge would have honoured Venice. That's perhaps why the Royal Opera House brought this production to London, so we could enjoy Domingo once again in a role he can still achieve well. The narrative is bleak and sombre. There aren't all that many flashy "big moments" for Antonio Pappano to whip the orchestra into full Verdian glory. The set (designs by Kevin Knight, with costumes by Mattie Ulrich) thus serve to distract from the opera itself. We delight in the gorgeous jewel colours that show Venice at its gaudy best.  But the gem is flawed. The city is rent by vicious intrigue. The Doge is destrotyed in a way that would hurt the most: his last son is accused, exiled and dies. It's not a pretty story. Still, we can fantasize, like the crowds in the piazza watching the circus acrobats and fire-eaters doing their tricks. What a brilliant metaphor! Even at this early age, was Verdi making oblique statements?

Wonderful atmospheric lighting by Bruno Poet, whose lighting suggests mists descending on the city, enveloping it in gloom. Most of the effects are created by video projections. so the set travels well. Just as the invention of electric light changed opera, video allows infinitely greater possibilities than, say, painted flats.  The art comes in using technique well. Here, though,  we see a backdrop of waves, which might have been exciting in Los Angeles, but London audiences would recognize as the backdrop to Birtwistle's The Minotaur. Numerous other projections onto cloth, which seem to be done by fairly basic oil and water washes projected onto cloth. The giant face of the Lion of Venice doesn't do as it's told. Maybe there's a very subtle truth in that but the production isn't quite that deep. The projections dissolve as the cloth is lowered, clumsily, into a hole in the floor. Apart from the nice costumes, the production feels minor house. Thaddeus Strassberger, an American, is director, but there's not much direction as such. The singers strike am-dram theatrical poses, but since the production revolves entirely around Plácido Domingo, there's probably little need to develop the other roles as drama.

Vocally, Maria Agresta's Lucrezia Contarini.was the high point of the evening.What a pure, clean voice, capable of passionate conviction. Agresta and Francesco Meli, who sings Jacopo Foscari, provided the vocal colour otherwise in short supply, in an opera that depicts a harsh, repressive regime.  When Agresta and Meli sang their final duet, the opera came to life. That said, though, Maurizio Muraro, singing Jacopo Loredano, member of the Council of Ten, impressed with the authoritative richness in his voice. The other members of the Council,and the rows of women in white, priests, servants and so on, operate anonymously, which is perhaps right, but Muraro's Loredano has power and individuality. So, yes, go to this I due Foscari, for Plácido Domingo, around whom it's all been created.

Photos :Catherine Ashmore, courtesy Royal Opera House, details embedded. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Idomeneo, Wiener Staatsoper live stream


Later today, Mozart Idomeneo , re di Creta, from Wiener Staatsoper, lived streamed HERE. cast list here and an interview with Kaspar Holten, director. Thre Royal Opera House is doing the same opera in a few weeks, (directed by Martin Kusej), so it will be fun to compare and contrast. Lots of photos on the Wiener Staatsoper site, though you can never go entirely on photos. Why, one might ask, a Holten production in Vienna and Kusej in London?  Actually, that's nothing unusual,  given the way that the business works.  Holten is a much deeper director than he gets credit for.He thinks about what he does (much more than some)  so even when he does something you don't expect, he's done so for well-considered reasons.  Kusej is more simplistic. The notion that audiences don't like Regie is nonsense. Claus Guth's kitschy  Die Frau ohne Schatten was a huge success, though it completely recast the meaning of the opera (Please read my review here). What matters most in any production  is not how decorative it looks, but how it expresses the spirit of the work.The casts are pretty much on the same level (Michael Schade vs Matthew Polenzani) and both conductors are very good indeed - Christoph Eschenbach (Vienna) and Marc Minkowski (London) both of whom I love. I'll be going for Minkowski period-informed energy.

This year the Wiener Staatsoper has increased the number of productions it's streaming. They're learning from Munich! Although HD broadcasts in cinemas bring in huge audiences,  it's not an ideal system. Opera houses are at the mercy of cinema distribution chains, who have their own networks and rivalries. The arts aren't top priority for these chains, so the situation isn't going to change soon. HD broadcasts are also subject to weather conditions, and even jammed signals. Time after time shows are interrupted by technical glitches. So switching from cinemas to digital online broadcasts might be a no-brainer. The potential audience is even greater: no-one needs a convenient local cinema. The crucial issue, then, is economics.  Filming is expensive, and online broadcasts don't make much money. The notion that broadcasts eat into live/DVD sales is pretty much a fallacy, Opera houses operate in different ways, so some benefit more than others.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Why shouldn't footballers like opera ?

A famous Premier League Footballer tweets a photo of the Royal Opera House curtain before a performance. The Daily Mail gets wind of it and writes a story about the footballer attending Philip Glass's The Trial "...based on a novel by Franz Kafka - which is unlikely to be on your average player's list of favourite books."

Why not? Footballers aren't stupid. Besides, most young people take to Kafka because he expresses the kind oif frustration young people feel, before they get sucked into the mindlessness of this world. 

Major praise for West Ham Winger Matt  Jarvis, 28, who is man enough to think for himself and do what he wants whatever smartass journalists expect.  I hope he and his wife enjoyed themselves and that they'll come back.

Major kicks to the Daily Mail for hiring reporters who write off Google instead of from things like actual knowledge.  Jarvis's photo shows the main auditorium at the Royal Opera House, where Manon the ballet was on, not the Linbury Studio Theatre, where Glass's The Trial was being performed by Music Theatre Wales! A great show it was, too. Jarvis might have enjoyed himself at that, too!  Read my review here.

Why shouldn't footballers enjoy opera or ballet or modern art or anything else? Harriet Harman raged when she couldn't see her constituents at the Royal Opera House. Maybe she  doesn't have much respect for them (and probably doesn't know them all by sight).  But opera is only "elitist" in the minds of those who want it to be. The rest of us just get along enjoying ourselves. The real snobbery lies with those who want to use the arts as a weapon to act out their own grievances.  But, as the Daily Mail shows, (read more here) maybe they should start by knowing what they're talking about.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Philip Glass : The Trial, Music Theatre Wales Linbury ROH

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass's In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company. Auspicious prospects indeed. Music Theatre Wales did Glass proud with an excellent production, sensitively attuned to the nuances of Glass's idiosyncratic idiom.

Kafka's The Trial, has such iconic status that any opera based on it carries huge expectations. The atmosphere of the novel is so unusual that it doesn't lend itself readily to ordinary operatic treatment. Glass's music, however, operates on the surreal dissociation that pervades the spirit of the novel. As we listen to the repeated sequences, our minds become innured to patterns. Glass's music expresses the existential angst of mechanical, impersonal systems. If Glass and his librettist, Christopher Hampton, had used the German title "Der Prozess" , the connection would be even more clear. Josef K (Johnny Herford) wakes up one morning and everything starts to go out of synch.  He knows something's wrong but goes along with things until he becomes part of what he didn't believe in.  It's reasonable that his Uncle (Michael Druiett) should help  but why strange women like Leni (Amanda Forbes) and a painter (Paul Curievici)?  Or oddballs like Block (Michael Bennett)  who any reasonable person wouldn't trust? As we become familiar with the cadences in the music, our minds start to follow almost by auto-pilot, and we're mesmerized, too.  K's problems start on his 30th birthday. A year later, he's dead. Or perhaps he's at last succumbed to the long slow death that is conformity to systems that have no real meaning. Once he slips into habits of non-logic, the process takes control.  Perhaps that's the real Trial Josef K is undergoing.  He hasn't committed a crime, he's just part of the irrational scheme of things.

Glass's music wonderfully captures the mindless numbness of the processes around us. In In the Penal Colony (also based on a story by Kafka), an infernal machine drills words into the flesh of a prisoner. The concise nature of chamber opera intensifies the effect of Glass's music,  creating unbearable tension,  so concentrated that it might explain why some listeners switched off, emotionally. Please read my review of  In the Penal Colony HERE and my review of the audio-only recording HEREThe Trial is more diffuse, involving more characters and covers a longer time span, So the impact is less extreme. The story is more or less familiar to all, which helps make it more accessible. The opera unfolds over ten scenes in two acts, in fairly symmetrical form, which also helps to distance the audience from the human tragedy. In the Penal Colony is a masterpiece, possibly Glass's finest work, but The Trial should prove much more popular.  By Glass's standards, the music is more concrete than usual, with many good "special effects" like  booming trumpet figures illustrating The Uncle, followed by wailing trombone illustrating young K. There are quirky jazzy waltzes and delightful figues on celeste and xylophone. Moderrn miusic without too much fear, but enough intelligence and integrity to satisfy high standards.

Johnny Herford sings Josef K. It can't be easy to create a character disintegrating from a rational man into automaton, but Herford is convincing. His voice has a good balance of rugged manliness and plaintive vulnerability. Even in the throes of his confusion, this K can break off for a quick snog!  Amanda Forbes sings Fräulein Bürstner/Leni, roles which make her switch from prim repression to  voluptuousness.  Forbes's sensual timbre makes one hear the woman behind the compulsive wanton. Leni sleeps with anyone. She's funny,  yet also someone deeply flawed, forced to play a role defined by men. she's not given to reflection, but Forbes shows her fragility by employing a good edgy tension to  her singing. Good performances too from Michael Druiett (Inspector/Uncle), Michael Bennett (Guard/Block), Nicholas Folwell (Guard/ Usher/Clerk/Priest), Rowan Hellier (Frau Grubach/Washerwoman) and Gwion Thomas (Magistrate /Lawyer). Paul Curievici (Painter/Flogger/Student) stands out in small roles: he's one of the better character tenors of his generation.  Michael McCarthy directed, with sets by Simon Banham. Wonderfully idiomatic playing by the Music Theatre Wales Ensemble, conducted by Michael Rafferty.

Philip Glass The Trial is a joint commission between the Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera and Theater Madgeburg.. Music Theatre Wales will perform it again in London until 18th October, and will then take it on tour. (More details here).  Glass's The Trial will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 om 25th October (available also online and internationally). Highly recommended !

photos : Clive Barda, courtesy Royal Opera House (details embedded)

Friday, 10 October 2014

Oxford Lieder Festival 2014 Schubert

Tonight, the start of the Oxford Lieder Festival 2014.  I won't be there, since I'm at Philip Glass Kafka, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury) but I'll be there in spirit.  I've been a Friend since the Festival got off the ground more than ten years ago.  Oxford Lieder isn't like ordinary festivals.The emphasis is on the joy of performance. This is close to the spirit of the original Schubertiades, where friends got together to enjoy and experience.  It's not just big starry names, but also up and coming and community.

There's a costumed Liederabend on Tuesday for which I've got a ticket although I'll be at I due Foscari at The Royal Opera House.  Welcome to anyone. I'm honoured to buy tickets and sponsor songs even though I can't go to nearly as much as I would like to. That's what being a true "Friend" is, caring about things and wishing the group well. Other extra tickets too include Saturday's Graham Johnson talk, which I can't make.

There's more on this site about Schubert and the Oxford Lieder Festival than any other site, so please explore. Here is what I wrote about this year's Schubert Project, the most ambitious Schubert Festival ever mounted in this country - all the songs and part songs, plus chamber works and other events connected to Schubert and to Oxford.


Rameau Anacréon danced - Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment


"Flying the Flag/L'Amour" ,the catchy title of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's  Rameau programme at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The title concealed the treasures within, two rarely-heard Rameau pieces, Pigmalion and Anacréon. True to the spirit of Rameau's aesthetic, which lies in dance, the performance was realized by dancers from Les Plaisirs des Nations (choreographer Edith Lalonger). Both pieces are miniatures, far less exuberant than masterpieces like Castor et Pollux but for that very reason, we can appreciate the basis of Rameau's distinctive style. 

Anacréon begins with a simple flourish : two coiled valveless horns (one possibly a genuine antique) evoke the kind of Arcadia which artists of the classical period delighted in painting. The horns are followed by high woodwinds, intensifying the dream-like atmosphere of ancient Greece seen through 18th century French imagination.  In this landscape, Gods, mortals and animals frolic, in idealized fantasy. Chloé (Anna Dennis) and Batile (Augustin Prunell-Friend) cautiously declare their love for each other.  However, Chloé is about to marry the famous poet Anacréon (Matthew Brook). She quite likes him but he's too amorous.  Rameau's audiences would have cackled, since they had enough classical education to know that Anacréon, though revered, was a drunk and a lecher.  Rameau suggests Anacréon's earthiness with lines that descend in almost ostinato: an old roué drooping because he's in his cups.  "Regnez, Regnez" sings Matthew Brook, like the god Bacchus, the lord of misrule. "I live in the moment" he sings. Instead of the deep reflection one might expect from Wagner, or the florid intensity of Verdi,  Rameau's Anacréon watches the dancers do their routines, and thus satisfied, lets Batile and Chloé find true love. Augustin Prunell-Friend sings Batile's long showpiece, which consists mainly of the lines "Let fly, arrows of love, into our souls" but is so beautifully decorated that it makes perfect sense. (The photo above is a 19th century French painting of Anacréon,with his lute with a hairless Pan and cupids - try staging that now)

The parade of dancers thus operates as plot device, which wouldn't be quite so obvious on audio-only recording. Why are the dancers dressed (vaguely) as Turks or Hindus?  Baroque audiences were fascinated by exotic cultures. If people from strange places could do strange things, then why not have them inject another level of fantasy into the proceedings?  Pan the god appears, half-man, half-goat, complete with little red horns like the devil.  Pan was the god of music, but also of sensuality and dangerous wild spaces. Bacchus appears, too, an old man with a wreath of grapevine.  Gods, men and animals mix in joyous confusion : anything can happen in the creative imagination. In Anacréon, we can see, in germ, the exuberance and creative good humour William Christie found in Les Indes Galantes, Les Paladins and Hippolyte et Aricie  The true, adventurous spirit of the age!

Williams and the OAE aren't quite in that league of brilliance, but they performed  a new edition of Rameau's  1754 version of Anacréon, compiled by Dr Jonathan Williams, who conducted. Their recording of this "new" Anacréon is the first in the market.

In April this year, Williams and the OAE performed Rameau's Zaïs, also danced by members of Les Plaisirs des Nations. Please see my review HERE.  Pigmalion dates from 1748, as did  Zaïs, but the plot's even thinner.  It's a metaphor fpor the power of artistic imagination. This isn't necessarily a disadvantage, since it means we can focus on the structure and on the role of dance. Pigmalion (Daniel Auchincloss) is a sculptor who has fallen in love with a Statue (Katherine Manley). Pigmalion's lover, Céphise (Susanna Hurrell) calls on the gods for help.  Unfortunately, L' Amour (Venus, sung by Anna Dennis) feels sorry for Pigmalion and turns the statue into a woman.  Everyone's happy, except Céphise, who disappears.  Rameau writes a rollicking good chorus singing about the joys of love. Is it ironic that a composer so given to energy and movement would write a piece where the love interest is an inanimate object? Again, the sheer vivacity of the music  makes anything seem possible.  Three dancers depict the Three Graces, artistic creations born like the Statue fully mature and whole..Although in classical art, the Three Graces, and most statues were shown naked, or semi-naked in Grecian drapes,  Nudity might have been authentic but Rameau and his audiences used their imaginations. The Three Graces appear in outfits which would have been contemporary in Rameau's time, and Katherine Manley wears an evening gown.

Most of the action happens not in sung text but in abstract music. Sequence after sequence of dance figures: I lost count after ten. These probably illustrate specific dance forms, some pastoral, some lively, some almost militaristic.  The patterns in which the dancers move reflect the patterns in the music, as if the abstract forms in music are being made visible. For all his exuberant effervescence, Rameau was a superb craftsman. His Traité de l'harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels  was one of the first great treatises on the theory of music. Rameau's mind reflected the clarity and precision so dear to the Enlightenment.