OPERA NEWS - Les Indes Galantes
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Les Indes Galantes

Munich Opera Festival

In Review Munich Les Indes Galantes hdl 1016
Moore and Oropesa in Les Indes Galantes in Munich
© Wilfried Hösl

JEAN-PHILIPPE RAMEAU'S Ballet héroique (here titled Opéra-ballet) Les Indes Galantes, had its truncated world premiere in Paris in 1735. (The final acts were added shortly thereafter.) It is an adventurous work, prototypical of French Baroque style but at the same time far-reaching and trend-setting. The genre demands that ballet play an integral role, a device that does not in any sense reduce the vocal or orchestral challenges. Munich’s new production, part of the Munich Festival, opened on July 24 in the Prinzregententheater, the 1,200-seat theater built in 1900 in Bayreuth-amphitheater form but without that house’s covered orchestra pit. 

The Prologue sets the scene: Hébé, the goddess of youth, loses a confrontation with Bellona, the goddess of war. Hébé calls on Amor and we are transported to four different world cultures to experience the fulfillment of love, in its many forms. What may have been understood in Rameau’s time as an excuse for extravagant, exotic sets and costumes was transformed, under the stage direction and choreography of the Belgian native Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, into a compelling, witty, ingenious parable of the here and now. The opera began in a French schoolroom; Hébé was the teacher, and the bass Bellona, wonderfully costumed in military drag, was perhaps the school’s strict principal. The schoolchildren, all costumed in blue and white school-uniforms by Greta Goiris, played a major role throughout the opera. Succeeding acts took place in a museum, a makeshift church or a refugee camp. Some of the “heroic” activity was tongue-in-cheek, and much was critical of today’s lack of social morality, whether in religious institutions or international politics. One never, in any scene, lost sight of the love story itself. 

The ballet troupe, consisting of twelve superlative dancers, was ever-present, its choreography ranging from courtly dance to bodily gyrations, and all fitting exactly to the rhythm and feeling of the music at hand. Anna Viebrock’s sets were of a simple but illustrative nature, malleable and quickly moved. The vocal soloists—many of them cast in double roles— and chorus were fully integrated into movement and dance, and the ballet troupe and the children were active in nearly all of the sung segments. 

Musically, the evening could hardly have been bettered. Conductor Ivor Bolton, a Baroque specialist, was nothing short of spectacular, guiding with enthusiastic gestures the large Munich Festival Orchestra, a group consisting only of Baroque specialists brought in from far and wide, in an inspiring and inspired manner. The orchestra itself played splendidly. If the women in the cast tended to overshadow their male counterparts, it should not be considered a criticism of the latter but rather extreme praise of the former. Soprano Anna Prohaska once again demonstrated her sovereign status through supreme style and beauty of tone in the roles of Phani and Fatime. Lisette Oropesa was enchanting as both Hébé and Zima, showing a delicious soprano of utmost clarity and the gift of direct communication with the audience. Ana Quintans was delightful as L’Amour and was a most moving Zaire. Elsa Benoit sang a heart-rending Emilie. American baritone John Moore sang a suave, tonally alluring Adario; Tareq Nazmi was sonorous as Osman and Ali; François Lis was commanding as both Huascar and Alvar. Tenor Mathias Vidal sang with winning personality and strength as Carlos and Damon. The Balthasar-Neumann-Choir, Freiburg, conducted by Detlef Bratschke, sang and acted superbly.  —Jeffrey A. Leipsic

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