Warsaw Chamber Opera - Dardanus / Pygmalion - 19 November 2017


After the great success of Armide I was interested to attend this performance of mainly dance sequences or interludes  from the Rameau operas Dardanus and Pygmalion.This would be an all Polish rather than co-production. Romana Angel,the distinguished dancer, choreographer and founder of the famous Cracovia Danzathe only professional Court Ballet in Poland, was the Director and choreographer of the production. The Australian conductor Benjamin Bayle directed  Musicae Antiquae Collegium Vasoviense. Marlena Skoneczko designed the flowing rather Boucher-style costumes.

The librettist of Rameau's third tragedie en musique  was Le Clerc de la Bruère who was a dilettantish young nobleman of twenty-three who among his country pursuits of hunting and riding, indulged literary activities. He died of smallpox in 1754 in Rome at the age of thirty-eight. We were not presented with the entire opera (the plot has definite limitations and has rather senseless infantile aspects) but danced excerpts mainly concentrating on the fine music of this score, the sheer life and musical beauty of it.  

Basically we watched Venus overcoming the ravages of Jealousy after Love has been awakened. Dreams, Loves and Goddesses abound in the opera. The music allows various moods to be depicted - Pleasure, Jealousy, wrath, activity and sleep. The dance of personified Pleasures is rudely ravaged by a personified Jealous couple with various dance French dance forms utilized such as the gavotte and chaconne, especially though  the infectious rhythms of the Rameau tambourins. The greatness of the music overcomes the enfantillages of the plot. The dancers transported us into a type of fairyland of the Alice in Wonderland type which I found rather charming - as long as I associated the words and the music. The dance gestures were rather repetitive otherwise and I felt were in need of a great deal more variety.

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Rameau composed eight one-act works between 1748 and 1754. Pygmalion is by far the superior item, its qualities among his very best musical work. The librettist here was rather different, a serious and a passionate man. Ballot de Sovot was an intense upholder of French dramatic music. He even fought a duel and was wounded by his opponent, an Italian castrato named Cafarelli, who observed that the French should imitate Italian music if they wanted to make improvements to their compositions. How one might yearn for this degree of passionate conviction in classical music today!

The Overture was very fine as Pygmalion (Aleksander Kunach) chips away with his chisel on a most lifelike statue. His prayer to Venus (Maria Stasiak) is answered and the statue comes alive and walks haltingly about (Sylwia Krzysiek). I felt his voice somewhat strident and unsubtle in intonation but perhaps that is appropriately in the character of a sculptor who relies on strength and stamina and suddenly confronted with a dreamed-for miracle. Pupils of the sculptor attempt the same with their statues, carried in,  which added a tone of bucolic amusement to the proceedings. There were excellent statue metamorphoses in this production! When a closed hand was chiseled it sprang open like a flower. So delightful a comceit!

The dancing raised the mood of the work to what the great Rameau scholar Cuthbert Girdlestone referred to as 'tender exaltation'.  Certainly in the dancing and staging of this production I felt it to be a delightful piece of rococo  'Dresden-china Rameau'. When the dancers fired arrows into the audience given them by a not so blind Cupid, in fine voice (Olga Siemieńczuk), I could not help reflecting rather philosophically on the chance nature of any coup de foudre one might encounter in life. Love as a true education of the psyche.

Stylish Dresden-china Rameau
A charming evening of confectionery entertainment and none the worse for that!

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