FOUNDED IN 1983 BY ANNE BLANCHARD, who directed it over these four decades, the Beaune Festival is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this summer. Also open for ten years to the romantic repertoire, the festival was initially exclusively devoted to baroque opera. Created at a time when most of the great ensembles and conductors who dominate the Baroque world today were born to notoriety, the Festival de Beaune has provided a setting for most of them from their very beginnings. It is, today as yesterday, the meeting place of great musicians. This was demonstrated by the first two evenings of the 2022 edition, with the successive presence at the baton of Paul McCreesh at the head of the Gabrieli Consort & Players (also celebrating his 40th anniversary and celebrating it with the presentation of a king arthur fascinating with vitality and invention) and Christophe Rousset at the head of the Ensemble he created, Les Talens Lyriques – which are celebrating their thirtieth anniversary in 2022 and presented an unknown and fascinating opera by Carlo Pallavicino ( 1630-1688): The Amazzoni nell’isole fortunate.
Purcell or prosodic art
As a Britten captured very well in the 20th century by paying homage to Orpheus Britannicus in many of his vocal works, we are dealing with Purcell with a sort of compendium of prosodic meaning that best highlights the specific genius of the English language. and deep poetry – a combination of lyricism, melancholy and humour, to which is added an exceptional sense of drama. Purcell’s music seizes the listener to the heart and makes him enter an energetic world, powerfully structured, whose prosodic edges provide the framework. But one could also say that, in a way, the plot does not matter. One can thus listen to most of Purcell’s operas and semi-operas (not to mention even the odes, anthems or other vocal pieces) without being the least armed with musical science, knowledge of the poem or the libretto or even an understanding of the English language… This is the deep mystery of a poetic-musical universe so loaded with archetypes and yet so little codified, that one can let oneself be carried away by the richness of the music without feeling any fear of to be left in the way…
It seems to me that the very great success, of a rather paradoxical order, of this king arthur presented by Paul McCreesh on July 8 in the Cour des Hospices de Beaune, at the head of the Gabrieli Consort & Players was due to the extraordinary mastery by all the performers – instrumentalists, singers and conductor – of all the subtleties of the score and their generosity in sharing them, thus offering the listener, despite the absence of stage representation and subtitles, a dramatic arc so well supported by the emotional commitment of each of the singers, instrumentalists and their conductor, that the music spoke for itself. Of course there is in king arthur at least one “hit”, known to all, as it has been exploited in fields other than lyrical: it is the famous “Cold Air”, immortalized by Klaus Nomi, which was perhaps not the highlight of the evening, as the tempo taken by Paul McCreesh was so fast, preventing the listener from savoring all the magnificent harmonies of this sequence.
Sing, lead and listen…
king arthur is also nourished by the banter of popular songs or the tonicity of village dances, alternated with the refinement of much more scholarly tunes: this is what makes the work so charming. All the performers were magnificent transmitters: both in their own interventions and in their listening, literally staged. One of the specificities of this opera “in concert” is in fact that each of the singers who are not singing are invited to present in a very moving, or entertaining way, their particular listening, since they are all constantly on stage, even when they do not intervene. While one dreams of who knows what secret memory, letting an emotion surface on his face that the spectator can fleetingly capture, the other entertains himself or exchanges some joke with his neighbor, whether one guesses jolly or childish…
As for Paul McCreesh, who conducted the score by heart, we saw him regularly, in the moments when he let his performers sing without direction, standing behind them, facing the audience, like a mysterious character and magician, perhaps the representation of a sort of Spirit of Music, cast a gaze full of benevolence and wisdom on what was going on there before his eyes. Great moment.
A Venetian opera to discover
With Carlo Pallavicino’s opera presented the next day at the Notre-Dame Basilica, we were able to discover one of those little-known composers whose Festival de Beaune has been the promoter throughout its forty years of existence. One can feel a certain apprehension at the idea of this type of work: are we going to listen to yet another opera will be, with its endless batch of da capo arias, recitatives and obligatory embellishments…? And to think, once again, that the Italian 17th and 18th centuries produced a lot of operas that would be better left in the closet? Very welcome surprise: this drama per musica created in Venice in 1679 is absolutely worth updating. This is not surprising on the part of Christophe Rousset, whose very sure taste is the guarantee of an always inventive and relevant programming.
The power of women
With The Amazzoni nell’isole fortunate (The Amazons in the Fortunate Islands), a French premiere recreation initiated by the Les Talens Lyriques ensemble to celebrate its 30th anniversary (in co-production with the Potsdam Château de Sans-Souci Music Festival), we are dealing with the one of those Venetian operas featuring the power of women. As Olivier Rouvière points out, in the excellent presentation text he wrote for the program notes, The Amazzoni nell’isole fortunate “is equidistant” from Coronation of Poppea (1642) by Monteverdi andAgrippina by Handel (1709). We learn that Pallavicino is also the author of two other works on the theme of the Amazons: Amazon Corsara, Ossia Alvida (1686) and Antiope, Regina of the Amazon (1689).
Here again, without going into the details of an action rich in twists and turns, let us simply underline the consummate art of the composer to densify the action and the musical forms in which it takes place, so that the music is constantly changing, unexpected , captivating in its contrasts and twists. To highlight these dramatic and musical qualities, Christophe Rousset, who directs Les Talens Lyriques with the sensitivity and subtlety that are his trademark, has surrounded himself with a team of singers that are quite convincing. Having sung the work in Potsdam a few days earlier, in the very welcome staging by Nicola Raab, the performers seem like fish in water in this rare work, giving all the expressive richness of an opera whose Christophe Rousset says this: “This is a totally Venetian work: there are colours, intimacy, blood, drama, sex, love and power. It is in any case a rarity that has certainly not been replayed in Europe since the 17th century. “.
Photo: Beaune Festival
Henry Purcell: king arthur. Mhairi Lawson, Alren Lodge Campbell, Anna Denis, sopranos; Matthew Long, Jeremy Budd, Christopher Fitzgerald Lombard, Tom Castle, tenors; Ashley Riches, bass. Gabrieli Consort & Players, ed. Paul McCreesh. Courtyard of the Hospices de Beaune, July 8, 2022
Carlo Pallavicino: The Amazzoni nell’isole fortunate. Axelle Fanyo (Pulcheria), Anara Khassenova (Jocasta), Olivier Cesarini (Il Timore, Sultan), Marco Angiolini (Anapiet), Eleonore Gagey (Cillena, La Difficolta), Iryna Kyshliaruk (Florida), Clara Guillon (Il Genio, Auralba) . Les Talens Lyriques, dir. Christophe Rousset. Basilica of Our Lady of Beaune, July 9, 2022.