Promoting Historically-Inspired Performances of Early Music and Baroque Opera
Review: Zélindor by Francoeur & Rebel - Opera Lafayette & the New York Baroque Dance Company
By John Wall
On October 17th, Opera Lafayette brought a production to New York City for the first time, the one-act ballet-opera Zélindor (1745) by François Rebel & François Francoeur. Zélindor was preceded by a suite from the prologue Le Trophée, composed by Rebel and Francoeur for a performance later in 1745 to celebrate the French victory at Fontenoy. The venue was the Rose Theater, New York's premier hall for baroque orchestral and stage works.
Francoeur and Rebel worked together from 1726 until Rebel's death in 1775, composing operas and divertissements for Paris and Versailles. While at least two opera recordings will be released in the near future, at present the best example of their compositions available on disk is the CD "Amans voulez-vous être heureux?" by Ensemble Ausonia, Alpha 076, which contains airs and dances from Scanderberg (1735), Pirame & Thisbé (1726), and Tarsis & Zélie (1728). Their music reflects the influence of Rameau as well as Italian composers of the early 1700s, but with little hint of the modern, gallant style that shows up in the operas of Mondonville and Royer, who were born about a decade after Rebel and Francoeur.
The livret of Zélindor was written by François-Augustine Paradis de Moncrif, who was eulogized many years later as "a trusted friend, a pleasant writer". Like other ballet-operas, Zélindor has a thin, pastoral plot that provides the framework for an evening of dance.
The dances in Zélindor were performed brilliantly by seven costumed dancers with the New York Baroque Dance Company. They wore distinctive masks, as was customary in the early 18th Century, together with the higher heels and larger hoops of the era. In Scene 3, the four women dancers appeared in shepardess dresses with garlands of flowers in their hair. In Scene 4, the three male dancers entered, dressed as a gnome and two "fire salamanders". The latter wore reptilian heads with protruding forked tongues and crests of flames, long formal coats and contrasting vests of red and gold. Caroline Copeland changed to an aristocratic dress as an Air Slyph, perhaps miming Zirphé. I missed the costume change of Catherine Turocy to Ondine, noted in the program. The finale joined all forces, as the dancers alternated with the chorus and soloists, with dances including a gigue, minuets, and a bourée.
While there was nothing nearly as memorable as the distinctive tunes in Rameau's Les Indes Gallantes, the music was of high quality throughout, and it was well performed. The most interesting vocal movement was an Italianate aria for Zélindor with difficult divisions executed gracefully by Jean-Paul Fouchécourt. Instrumental highlights included the wind machine in the overture to Le Trophée and the skilful holeless (presumably) natural trumpet playing of Barry Bauguess in the gigue at the conclusion of Le Trophée. You can hear it yourself in 2009, when a recording of the program will be released on a Naxos CD.
The literature furnished to the audience was superb -- a complete bi-lingual libretto, together with authoritative notes on the composers, the librettist and the music by Nizam P. Kettaneh and conductor's notes by Ryan Brown, who together with Alexandra Eddy prepared a new performing edition. Lights were left on sufficiently so that it was possible to follow the text during the performance.
In sum, Zélindor was a great success and probably the highlight of the year in New York for baroque performance enthusiasts.
The following was scanned from the program:
Ryan Brown, Conductor & Artistic Director
Suite from Le Trophée
La Muse: Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano
Zélindor, roi des Sylphes: Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, haute-contre
Zirphé, une mortelle: Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano
Zulim, un Sylphe: William Sharp, bass
Une Nymphe / La Sylphide: Ah Young Hong, soprano
OPERA LAFAYETTE ORCHESTRA
OPERA LAFAYETTE CHORUS
ALTO / HAUTE-CONTRE
THE NEW YORK BAROQUE DANCE COMPANY
Catherine Turocy, Choreographer and Artistic Director
Patricia Beaman, Nymph