modern antiquity

I couldn't recomend more highly the Les Arts Florissants production of Rameau's "Les Boréades" which opened June 9 at the Brookly Academy of Music. I'd be astounded if it hasn't sold out already, but the Academy Howard Gilman Opera House is a very big space.

The music is gorgeous, and until recently inexplicably neglected. The singing is superb, and the visuals are magificent, modern but fully respectful of the formalism of mid-eighteenth-century France.

The story and the libretto, with their elevation of la Liberté to the highest order, well, next to the redemptive qualities of love, are pure Enlightenment, and a healthy reminder of how much we still owe to the French, who taught our Fathers so much we seem now to have forgotten ourselves.

Rameau wrote the music in 1763. He was 80, and he died the following year. The text was the work of a Freemason, which may explain why it was never performed in his time. The work but had to wait for its premier until just a few years ago. This is it's American premier.

More than most operas, "Les Boréades" is a balance of theater, music and dance. There are long sections with no vocal lines whatsoever, where the dance soars.

Director Robert Carsen and his creative team flood the stage with summer blossoms, mountainous piles of autumn leaves, punishing winter snows, and thunderous spring storms. The soloists, chorus, and dancers, 140-strong, are costumed in late 1940s, Dior-inspired dress to simpler garments to no garments at all. And then there are the marvels of Rameau, a master whose haunting airs and orchestral dances for Les Boréades put many more familiar operas to shame. Rameau called on a lifetime of experience in its creation, but above all he knew the human heart.
The huge chorus and the dancers (astoundingly, they are virtually indistinguishable for much of the evening in this production) are individually and together exceptionally beautiful and athletic, and lucky in their choreographer. The sets and lighting would please Wieland Wagner and Robert Wilson.



Adding to our own entertainment on opening night was the buzz created by the presence of the dashing young Canadian equery who accompanied "Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, C.C., C.M.M., C.O.M., C.D., Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada" and her consort, the essayist and novelist "His Excellency John Ralston Saul, C.C."

This handsome, perfectly-bilingual couple sat immediately across the aisle from us and joined the champagne patron receptions during two intermissions. The smiling equery, equally bilingual, clutched a thick leather portfolio (documents which might be needed to identify the GG, in the event of some unpleasant emergency, like our INS mistreating another Canadian citizen?) and never strayed far.

I have to gasp at the biographies of these two and admire what that says about their nation, especially when we look at what passes for the "qualifications" of our own current pretender to the office of U.S. chief executive. Of course the Canadian executive office has no real power, but it does clearly represent what Canada holds dear. Both nations regularly select lessor creatures to do the real ruling business.

[Note: The Governor General is nominated by the Canadian Prime Minister and approved by the Queen (Canadian Head of State) as her representative in Canada.]

By the way, Clarkson and Saul were at BAM on Monday not because of any official Canadian connection, but just for the show (they're both interested in the culture of all nations, and Saul especially is interested in promoting that of the French). Just a night out.

I read your comments on our Canadian Governor-General and her consort with interest. They have been a particularly excellent choice for the positions. In the past however, our Prime Minister's choices have not necessarily been so enlightened. Still, the example their Excellencies have set will set a standard for future Prime Ministers.