RAMEAU: Les Indes Galantes
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RAMEAU: Les Indes Galantes

DVD Button Brahim-Djelloul, van Wanroij, Warnier, Topalovic; Dahlin, Arnould, Prato, Dolié, Berg; Chorus of the Opéra National de Bordeaux, Les Talens Lyriques, Rousset. Production: Scozzi. Alpha Classics 710, 175 mins., subtitled

Recordings Les Indes Galantes hdl 216
More Goofus than Galantes: an updating of Rameau at Bordeaux
Recordings Les Indes Galantes cover 216
Critics Choice Button 1015 

FOR AUDIENCES OF THE PARIS OPÉRA, where Les Indes Galantes had its premiere in 1735, Jean-Philippe Rameau and librettist Louis Fuzelier created an opéra-ballet focused on amorous intrigues, set in various climes around the world. The action begins in the prologue, in which Bellona, goddess of war, exhorts Europe’s young men to go off to conquer new realms (the Indes of the title). Hebe, goddess of youth, objects, and she calls on Love to help. Love sends three cupids to four lands—an exotic island somewhere in the Indian Ocean, followed by Peru, Persia and pre-Colonial America. 

Rather than take the grand-scale rococo approach taken by the Paris Opéra in 1952 for its now-legendary resurrection of the work, Opéra National de Bordeaux, sixty-two years later, has produced Les Indes Galantes in a trendy contemporary updating. Despite some occasional oddities—even inanities—the whole staging serves the piece with considerable imagination and charm.

Director/choreographer Laura Scozzi asked herself how Rameau would treat the work were he around nowadays. What would he have thought of the numerous stark-naked couples cavorting like exuberant five-year-olds in the prologue (in a Garden-of-Eden-like set), or the hyperactive, ubiquitous trio of cupids who quickly wear out their welcome? Of the four entrées, most effective visually and dramatically is perhaps the last, “Les Sauvages.” This scene—played out on a set resembling a typical forest clearing in a U.S. national park—makes delightful use of projections based on contemporary American advertising in a sequence involving the Native American newlyweds Zima and Adario.

It’s a pleasure to hear Bordeaux’s polyglot cast put the text across so convincingly. Among the nine stylistically adept soloists (who play seventeen roles among them), much of the actual vocalism is only adequate, but they are all “stage animals.” For example, Amel Brahim-Djelloul’s light lyric soprano isn’t particularly distinctive, but she exudes appeal (especially as Hebe), offering sparkling presence and exceptional physical grace. Tall and notably slim, tenor Anders Dahlin is theatrically versatile in his four contrasting portrayals and secure—if not quite effortless—in haute-contre tessitura. This ensemble’s finest singer, bass-baritone Nathan Berg, offers an unnervingly creepy but brilliantly effective characterization. He plays Huascar (priest of the sun, infatuated with a Peruvian princess) as a drunk, drug-addicted, lecherous thug, sporting an undershirt, stringy hair and tattoos. 

Dancers and choristers give their all, and while greater theatrical flair from Christophe Rousset and his original-instrument ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques, would have been welcome, the players are, as usual, in outstanding form as regards mellifluous tone and technical prowess. The audio quality and video direction are great assets to this release, as are the booklet interviews with Rousset and Scozzi.  —Roger Pines 

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