This Sunday, a truly unique production involving many of our own Cornell musical groups will be showcased at Bailey Hall. Attend and you will be transported back in time, to 18th Century France, for an entrancing afternoon at the Paris Opera. Les Voyages de L’Amour: Operatic Flights from 18th-Century France is comprised of three miniature opéra-ballets from around the world, all about the universal unifier: love.
Entirely Cornell-organized by dedicated members of our music faculty (Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Mathieu Langlois), the performance will feature nationally-renowned singers from around the country and early music specialists, with period dancing provided by members of the praised New York Baroque Dance Company, under the direction of Catherine Turocy. The first two numbers are accompanied by Les Petits Violons, Cornell’s very own early music ensemble, playing on period instruments to boot. Karina Fox will be a visiting concertmistress, adding to the list of stellar guest performers. As another added treat, the last operatic flight, “Les Sauvages,” will highlight our Cornell Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Chris Younghoon Kim.
In the middle of the 18th Century, operas were always supplemented with dancing. Usually, an evening to the opera would consist of a single full-length opera alternated with opéra-ballets, which grouped together four or five independent miniature operas under an all-encompassing theme. Some programs consisted of fragmented, one-act stories, removed from their opéra-ballets, sometimes supplemented by a solo cantata. These “flights” are three of such outstanding works.
What makes these three pieces particularly entrancing is their exotic subject matter. During what historians now call the “Early Modern Period,” commoners and artists alike became fascinated with the native peoples and cultures met on their newly established trading routes. These foreign cultures were of most pulsing interest in France. The way these cultures are treated in these respective works gives noteworthy insight to how they were viewed by Europeans 400 years ago. The sense of enchantment these unknown, distant cultures awakened transfers over into our own viewing of these performances. These perspectives will be especially interesting to a university audience, as youthful attendees will be forced to reexamine their own views of foreign cultures as compared to those who had little concrete information available to them.
The first operatic entrée, Clérambault’s “Orphee” takes us beyond terrestrial geography, to the Underworld, though in the well-known story of Orpheus as he implores Pluto to restore his beloved Eurydice to life. The second French opéra-ballet, “L’Espagne” comes from André Campra’s L’Europe galante, which depicts love in various corners of Europe; this particular entrée is set, noticeably, in Spain. The entire work paints the picture of a stylish, gracious and almost flirtatious behavior in these countries.
Rameau’s Les Indes galantes visits not the Indies, but the variegated Persia, Turkey, Peru and North America. The successive entrées, following a prologue involving love and discord, deal with young people trying to find someone to love and marry in these respective countries. “Les Sauvages,” the final entrée that we will hear, follows people in North America, living harsh lives without benefit of laws and social restraints. These people are living out in the wild as forest dwellers but are trying to civilize. Two European men encounter “les sauvages:” Don Alvar, a Spaniard, and Damon, a Frenchman. They end up competing for the love of Zima, daughter of a native chief, who prefers one of her own people.
It is not often that the City of Ithaca produces operas; the number of trained singers and the extensive resources needed impedes the production of this intricate, complex genre. This program will be completely original to anything Cornell, let alone the City of Ithaca, has recently produced. The afternoon will not only include beautiful arias sung by talented guest soloists, but also one of the highest caliber baroque dance troupes around performing timelessly choreographed ballet. The cooperation between these well-established groups and our own university ensembles is sure to produce a refreshing, not-to-be-missed performance. What is more, as these three opéra-ballets are rarely ever performed, this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience these small treasures in the realm of opera.
There is a highly informative pre-concert lecture by Prof. Damien Mahiet Ph.D., music, Denison University, at 2 p.m. The talk will include rarely seen images from the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections from Cornell’s Kroch Library, promptly followed by the program at 3 p.m.