Festival Vancouver

Baroque Masterworks: Rameau's Pygmalion
Thursday, 14 August 2008 @ 8.00 pm • Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Cast: Suzie LeBlanc, Nathalie Paulin & Catherine Webster sopranos, Matthew White alto, Colin Balzer & Lawrence Wiliford tenors, and Tyler Duncan baritone - with baroque dancers Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière (choreographer), Stéphanie Brochard & Nina Richmond-Goring, and Early Music Vancouver's Baroque Festival Orchestra

Early Music closed this year’s Festival with a grand finale featuring dramatic music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Jean-Philippe Rameau.

Amor vince ogni cosa, the first Charpentier piece is a pastorale set in an Arcadian world where shepherdesses determine to resist the wooing of pining shepherds. Fate takes a hand when a wolf carries off Phyllis’ lamb and a bear attacks Eurilla. (Early Music is to be commended for selecting music so relevant to local current events.) The shepherds save the day and the girls, advised by Pan with rational 18th century logic, realize the only possible reward for such gallantry is to join sense with sensibility and return the shepherds’ love.

This was Baroque lite handled by a master, and the performances were to match. Nathalie Paulin and Catherine Webster had great fun as the shepherdesses without sacrificing beautiful sound, flowing lines or clear diction. Lawrence Wiliford and Colin Balzer sang with exceptional ease and assured style. Tyler Duncan brought to Pan a sense of wise authority and a heart-stoppingly beautiful voice.

Orphée descendant aux Enfers is a darker and far more serious piece. The Orpheus myth has been much set, even in Charpentier’s day. For this cantata he took merely a moment of the story: as Orpheus walks through Hades searching for Eurydice he laments the torments of love. Two of the shades, Tantalus and Ixion find their own eternal torments eased as they listen and realize it is Love which relieves them. Matthew White’s extraordinarily fluid and elegant singing, and the fine, finely-attuned voices of Colin Balzer and Tyler Duncan, created an experience of sheer beauty.

The singers were joined by Suzie LeBlanc and three dancers, Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière (also the choreographer) Stephanie Brochard and Nina Richmond-Goring for the principal work of the evening, Rameau’s Acte de ballet, Pygmalion. The well-known story of the sculptor obsessed by one of his own statues which is brought to life through the power of love is given an artistic twist: the Statue must learn how to express herself. The Graces are summoned by the god of Love to complete the transformation -- through dance.

Enchanting, melodious, perfectly-phrased performance can be taken for granted from the inimitable Suzie LeBlanc, the only performer required to both sing and dance. Her footwork was as precise and graceful as her singing. The three dancers charmed as the Graces giving a lesson in the court dances of the 18th century. In the smaller roles and chorus parts, the other singers provided splendid support, backed up by the excellent orchestral work.

The star of the evening though was Lawrence Wiliford whose sensitivity and skill brought extraordinary humanity to Pygmalion and whose choice and control of line, articulation and ornament produced a performance of unutterable beauty.

All the singers, as well as conductor Alexander Weimann were drawn into the closing dance, cleverly bringing everything down to earth in style. And it was the musicianship of Weimann, keyboard player and conductor, that created an evening without flaw.

© 2008 Elizabeth Paterson