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Rameau’s Les Indes Galantes (The Amorous Indies)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Les Indes Galantes
Lisette Oropesa, Goran Jurić, Ana Quintans, Tareq Nazmi, Cyril Auvity, François Lis, Anna Prohaska; Balthasar-Neumann-Chor; Munich Festival Orchestra/ Ivor Bolton; dir. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (Munich, 2016)
Bel Air Classiques BAC138 (DVD)

In repertoire from Handel to Humperdinck, directors strive to translate opera using contemporary frames of reference. Sometimes the results are illuminating, both of the original material and of the modern world. Sometimes they feel forced, however sincere the intent and refined their execution. Opéra-ballet presents a particular challenge. A hybrid genre designed for the amusement rather than the moral instruction of an ancien régime audience, it is a delicate and fantastical form on which to peg an exploration of the legacy of colonialism.

Stylishly played by the Munich Festival Orchestra under Ivor Bolton, the music of Rameau’s episodic exotic fantasy Les Indes galantes glows brightly in this performance of the choreographer-director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s 2016 production. Dancers of Eastman weave through the singers in a kinetic fusion of Baroque and street dance. The flowery kingdom where the goddess Hébé (Lisette Oropesa) instructs her charges in the Prologue is an austere mid-century classroom in Anna Viebrock’s designs. While Amour (Ana Quintans in androgynous shirt and trousers) and Bellone (Goran Juric in a battle-axe skirt suit) vie for supremacy, the nature posters are replaced with posters of guns and tanks. Extrapolated from an earlier work for the Musée de l’immigration in Paris, Cherkaoui’s treatment of the four unrelated Turkish, Inca, Persian and North American entrées becomes a sequence of dreamlike tableaux of conversion, internment, migration and othering. Emilie (Elsa Benoit) is imprisoned and objectified in a museum case by her adoring captor, Osman (Tareq Nazmi). The movement and singing of the four female principals, especially Anna Prohaska (doubling as Phani and Fatime), is outstanding, as is the performance of the Balthasar-Neumann-Chor. Nonetheless, Andrei Serban’s witty, sexy, apolitical Opéra de Paris production with Les Arts Florissants (also available on DVD) remains the more persuasive option.


Anna Picard