Incendiary Power of Amour Still Alive Today
by Faith Richards
those to whom the word opera conjures up the stereotypical
phrase, it isnt over until the fat lady sings,
the historic performance of Royers Le Pouvoir de LAmour
at Finney Chapel last weekend, the first in nearly 200 years, must
have been quite a delightful surprise. From the first notes of the
overture to the final bows, the audience was swept away by the operas
comedy and passion.
staged in 1743, the ballet-heroique had slipped into relative obscurity
and hadnt been performed in nearly 200 years until director
Lisa Goode Crawford, professor of Harpsichord, discovered it while
researching Royers work. She was assisted in her endeavors
to produce the work at Oberlin by many important people from the
intersecting worlds of opera and ballet, including choreographer
of the production, Catherine Turocy.
impressive were the voices of junior Melanie Besner, Leif Aruhn-Solen,
and junior Malia Bendi Merad. Besner and Merad, both voice majors,
had beautiful soaring soprano voices that complemented their respective
roles as the god of love and the princess Marphise. Aruhn-Solen,
a graduate of the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm
and Oberlins Artist Diploma program, performed well in his
double roles as Emire, the ardent lover in the first entrée,
and Apollon (Apollo) in the third. His lyrical tenor voice fit nicely
with both parts and made an excellent counterpart to the voices
of both Merad and Anne Harley, who played Emires lover, Zelide.
A typical example of 18th century opera and ballet, the original
work consisted of a prologue and three entrées (acts) filled
with light, beautiful orchestral and vocal music punctuated by short
dance interludes. However, the producers of the Oberlin performance
felt it necessary to omit the second entrée.
contrast [between the prologue/first act and the third act] would
be weakened, Crawford said.
central theme of the opera, as the title suggests, is the power
of love over human and even divine lives. The prologue set the stage
for the remainder of the work by outlining the story of Prometheus
bringing fire to humankind and, with the assistance of Imagination,
fighting the powers of hell by bringing Amour (love) to Earth.
Like much of Baroque art, LAmour drew upon classical myths
to furnish characters and ideas. The characters in the first act,
who are changed by the power of Love, were modeled on figures from
Arabian tales of fairies and genies. And the second act featured
the Greek god Apollo as well as the ritual sacrifice of the beautiful
princess Marphise. The omitted second act, according to the operas
website, is a telling of the story of King Midas with a love interest
that refers to the theme of power of love in the opera.
The impression given by the set design and music was of a simple
and light performance meant solely to entertain, but there were
many surprises hidden beneath the surface. At first the scenery
looked like seven pieces of wood painted with cherubs and other
Baroque ornamentations, but soon members of the chorus drew apart
the backdrop to reveal les Plaisirs (the Pleasures) and LImagination
(Imagination) contained within. The set also continued to reveal
its hidden depths as panels slid in and out between scenes.
Like the set, the themes presented in the opera had much more weight
than the light music and dance steps might indicate. The stories
were quite simplistic, at least if one had a clear view of the libretto,
but the statements made about love, life and the creation of art
Of course, to make a production of an 18th century opera written
and sung in French interesting and meaningful to a 21st century
English-speaking audience, it is necessary to have great singers,
dancers and instrumentalists (and supertitles, of course). Bearing
this in mind, the cast, a combination of professionals and Oberlin
students, was excellent.
Also to be recognized for their hard work and excellent performances
are the chorus and the orchestra, who put on a superb show that
made the work simply magical. Both Oliver Schneebell, choral director
from the Center de Musique Baroque de Versailles, and Gerard Geay,
also of CMBV, should be celebrated for their assistance in reviving
Baroque opera in America.
In addition, choreographer Turocy should be commended for the dances
she created from the limited resources available on eighteenth century
dance. They were lively, entertaining, joyful, and well executed
Le Pouvoir de LAmour can certainly be called a triumph for
all those involved in its production. After nearly three centuries
of anonymity it deserved a magnificent second premiere, which is
exactly what it received. And for the audience, it was one of the
most memorable Valentines Day gifts of all time.