That’s what Laurent Pelly said about the idea of a Frenchman directing a French opera adaptation of a Shakespeare play for an English audience during Shakespeare 400. Maybe he has a point but I think his 2016 production of Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict probably gets as much as there is to be got out of a curiously uneven work.
In 2012 Glyndebourne staged an interesting and contrasting double bill of Ravel one-acters in productions by Laurent Pelly. The first was L’heure espagnole. It’s a sort of Feydeau farce set to music. The plot is classic bedroom farce with the twist that most of the doors the lovers come in or out of belong to clocks. Concepción is the bored wife of a nerdy clockmaker. She’s not overly impressed by her two lovers; a prolix poet and a smug banker, who show up while hubby is out doing the municipal clocks. She’s much more taken by the slightly simple but very muscular muleteer who spends most of his time lugging lover infested clocks up and down stairs for her. Pelly wisely takes the piece at face value and brings off a mad cap forty five minutes timed to the split second.
Despite also featuring William Christie, Les Arts Florissants and François Roussillon, the 2004 Châtelet production of Rameau’s Les Paladins could hardly be more different from the recording of Lully’s Atys that I reviewed yesterday. The work is based on Orlando Furioso and is an utterly anarchic parody of pretty much everything that Rameau had previously written. It was considered shocking in its day. The production by José Montalvo with choreographic help from Dominique Hervieu is completely mad and tremendous fun.
Lully’s Atys was, apparently, Louis XIV’s favourite opera. It’s not hard to see why. Within the rigid conventions of its time and place it really is rather fine. The plot is classical and convoluted. After an allegorical prologue celebrating Louis’ successful winter campaign in the Low Countries we get the story proper. The hero Atys loves the nymph Sangaride, daughter of the god of the river Sangar, who returns his affection She is betrothed to Celenus, king of the Phrygians. The goddess Cybèle fancies Atys and makes him her high priest. Atys uses his position to nix the wedding which upsets both Cybèle and Celenus. Cybèle blinds Atys who kills himself but is immortalised by being turned into a tree by Cybèle. All of this takes over three hours with lots of ballets and other set pieces. The music is French 17th century court music so it’s a bit unvaried but much of it is very fine indeed.