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The Prologue despairs of Europe. It has become far too belligerent, as its young men now prefer battle to love. Bellona, Roman goddess of war, eggs them on, and it is here that Andrei Serban as stage director first declares with emphasis that every drop of comic juice is to be extracted from Rameau's opéra-ballet. The composer made Bellona a bass as somewhat masculine sister to Mars. João Fernandes sings her with conviction despite a bedraggled carrot wig and skirt of ludicrous brevity [listen -- 'La Gloire vous appelle: écoutez ses trompettes!', DVD1, Prologue, chapter 8, 0:00-1:25]. The lightly-moustached Cupid of Valérie Gabail has abandoned hope for his home continent, and urges his minions to range far afield, where maybe true love can be found [listen -- 'Ranimez vos flambeaux, remplissez vos carquois', DVD1, Prologue, chapter 14, 0:00-1:21].

A scene from 'Les Indes galantes'. Photo © Cosimo Mirco Magliocca
A scene from 'Les Indes galantes'. Photo © Cosimo Mirco Magliocca

Rameau's command of orchestral effects is more than ready for the wildest storm or most eruptive volcano. The first entrée is set on an island in the Indian Ocean where a generous Turk, based according to the librettist on a contemporary Grand Vizier, surrenders his European beloved to her compatriot conveniently washed up after shipwreck. Nicolas Cavallier as Osman makes a splendid case for Turkey's entry to the European Union as he dispenses sweet reasonableness beside a wandering minaret. The Emilie of Anna Maria Panzarella vividly heralds the storm [listen -- 'La nuit couvre les cieux!', DVD1, Première entrée, chapter 2, 0:00-1:31]. Equally effective is the Peruvian earthquake of the second entrée, as the chorus bewails the torments of the earth's guts [listen -- 'Tremblement de terre -- Dans les abîmes de la terre', DVD1, Deuxième entrée, chapter 13, 0:00-1:22].

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Copyright © 7 September 2005 Robert Anderson, London UK


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