Thursday, January 19, 2012

Submitted for your approval...

To anyone lucky enough to be in or passing through New York City in the early nineties it was a scene worthy of Rod Sterling: Tout Manhattan, dressed nattily or casually and counting such luminaries as Charles Rosen and Susan Sontag (and my modest self) were crowded into subway trains filled to the breaking point on a Sunday afternoon and emptying in of all places, Brooklyn. People who probably rarely ventured south of Tribeca were rushing to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a space about the size of the Houston Grand Opera. The hottest ticket in the operatic western hemisphere was to be the revelation of a series of baroque operas, heretofore heard only on records. William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants had come to uncover a musical revelation, so successful and memorable were these performances that an anniversary performance of Atys was repeated decades later.

Decades before the musically precocious and Francophile Christie had left Yale and headed for France and more specifically Versailles.There he had access to ensembles and libraries of scores and all the early instruments a man could dream of. Recordings began to appear of Handel, Rameau, Lully, Charpentier, Campra and others.The problem then was, despite all these preparations, was where in New York could you put on these works? The Met, glorious though it is ... well, a barn - historically speaking. It is a product of democratic-aristocratic intentions circa 1880's and then 1960's: we Americans missed the Versailles part. The dream of a piccolo-Met, discussed for over thirty years has as far as I know never come to light. Works like Strauss' Capriccio and the whole world of chamber and baroque opera are almost impossible in such a space.These operas with nuanced and subtle instrumental sound was dwarfed in the Mets vast space and all those theorbos and harpsichords lines and melodies dying long before they reach the high seats. I know, having over about thirty years sat all over the Met from nose bleed section to the exalted orchestra seats. Once as a gift from a singer I was so close to the orchestra for the Ring that I could see the beads of sweat on Maestro Levine's brow. 

Christie's grounding breaking, exquisite and critically acclaimed presentations had to be put on at alternate venues. In the early years we were treated to Lully's Atys (perhaps the greatest operatic- ballet performance I have ever seen) Purcell's King Arthur and Rameau's Castor et Pollux. Some of these were stage versions put on in Lincoln Center spaces. To cap it all off we were offered as a finale an evening of all Charpentier (Marc Antoine,1643-1704) and his ravishing motets and cantatas.

The fanfare for the upcoming "pastiche", The Enchanted Isle, must be a kind of solution to the baroque opera in the Met problem. I keep hearing the terms like extravaganza and grand. Perhaps this combination of baroque masters in the aggregate, Handel, Rameau and Lully, let alone the Shakespeare plot might have ramped up the scale. Either way, the music will be glorious. Please tune in to the Met this Saturday at noon and hear what William Christie and his magicians have in store for us all. 
by Ron Moore

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