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DC REVIEW: Delectable Appetizers in Les Indes Galantes (Opera Lafayette)

The Opera Lafayette Orchestra. Ryan Brown leads with his violin (standing, center). Sketch by Basil Considine.

The Twin Cities opera scene is blessed with several opera companies whose specialties range from the popular canon to new repertoire to site-specific and unusual spectacle. If your tastes run to Baroque operas, however, your odds of catching a local performance aren’t as good. While the occasional piece shows up on festival programs, this is rather like finding Finca Palmilera coffee beans at your local Starbucks: theoretically, it’s possible, but practically speaking you should just go to Costa Rica. In this analogy, your Baroque wining and dining will probably be in DC, NYC, or Boston. If you’re in DC, look for Opera Lafayette, which has made a specialty of reviving French Baroque operas in interesting ways.

Wednesday’s performance of Les Indes Galantes (in Washington, DC was something of a preview for Opera Lafayette’s NYC gala this evening. The feature comprised excerpts from Rameau’s 1735/1736 opera Les Indes Galantes, including the entirety of the fourth act performed with concert staging.

Each act of Les Indes Galantes consists of a self-contained mini-opera about a different culture encountered by Europeans during the Age of Discovery. In this case, excerpts from the prologue, “Les Incas du Pérou” (“The Incas of Peru”), and “Les Fleurs” (“The Flowers” – set in Persia) comprised the first part of the program, and were followed by the entirety of “Les Sauvages” (“The Savages”, referring to Native Americans). The first half of the program was alternately stately and spirited, with some notable flute solos elegantly performed by Charles Brink and Kathryn Roth. Opera Lafayette’s artistic director Ryan Brown led the ensemble with his violin in arm, removing the instrument only occasionally for a special flourish or dramatic gesture in music.

This concert staging did not include significant dancing – perhaps a wise measure, giving the infamous choreography that has become indelibly associated with “Les Sauvages”. The dancing was not missed – the brevity of the individual selections in the first half left the audience primed for a nice sit-down journey through that mini-opera.

Of the four featured singers, Sherezade Panthaki (as Zima) attracted significant interest with the dark color of her soprano tone and pleasant shimmering of her vibrato. Victor Sicard’s elegant tenor (as Adario) was nicely matched, and their duet “Hymen, viens nous unir d’une chaîne éternelle” (“Hymen, come unite us with an eternal chain”) was especially pleasing. Robert Gretchell (Damon) and André Courville (Dom Alvar) made a fine pair of dastardly conquistadors battling to seize Zima’s hand, with Courville showing a particularly fine bass voice.

As a separate concert experience, these excerpts from Les Indes Gallantes made a light evening meal – leaving plenty of room for dessert mingling with the artists over wine.

Basil Considine