Titan of French Baroque, Rameau Les Indes Galantes was brought to the Barbican Hall London by Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques. Les Talens Lyriques have a distinctive bright sound, which suits Les Indes Galantes well. This performance was part of a tour Les Talens Lyriques created for a fully staged production with dancers for Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse, The Opéra National de Bordeaux and the Staatstheater Nürnberg. Although the staging, directed by Laura Scozzi is somewhat controversial, it follows the score (if Persian women need disguises, why not burkas?) This isn't a piece for po-faced solemnity. Good natured humour is very much a part of the Baroque sensibility.
At the Barbican in London, we had a concert performance, without costumes or dancers, or dancers without costumes. But Les Talens Lyriques and the soloists were so lively that some of us in the audiences (like me) couldn't help but dance along in our seats.
In 1990, Rousset worked as William Christie's assiatnt when Les Arts Florissants created Les Indes Galantes at Aix-en-Provence, so wonderfully preserved on DVD. For Les Talens Lyriques, he has chosen a performing edition, based on a 1750 copy of the 1735 manuscript in the archives in Toulouse, This was created by Paul Dukas initially in 1902. "La version de Toulouse me semble intéressante comme témoignage de la conception très fluctuante qu’avait Rameau de son propre opéra", says Rousset. Composers in the past weren't dogmatic or rigid, but understood performance values. In this version, the third Entrée, Les Fleurs, is less florid, but the compensation is overall clarity. In this performance I was struck by the deft interaction between instruments and voices, "dancing" invisibly. The instruments "sing" too- the two musettes in the Prologue suggest shepherds piping rhythms for nymphs and shepherds to dance to. The antique trumpet called out plaintively. The percussionist beat out thunder with kettledrums, and blew the primitive "wind" machine. Even if the Volcano didn't blow us off our seats, the details elsewhere were deft, as agile as intricate dance steps. The "Hymen" music in Les Sauvages felt like earthy celebration and the final Chaconne restored grace and order.
Five of the original six soloists came to London, ensuring fluent, idiomatic singing. Amel Brahim-Djelloul was a vivacious Hébé, Phani and Fatime, her sparkling tone creating personality. Judith Van Wanroij was a striking Émilie and Atalide: both roles benefiting from the richness of her voice, which fills a niche in the repertoire. Benoît Arnould created the gruff macho in Bellone, Huascar and Alvar. Thomas Dollé sang Osman and Adario with well-judged roundness.
Most impressive of all, Anders J Dahlin, whose timbre is so beautiful, one would enjoy anything he sang for sheer delight. All his roles - Don Carlos, Damon, Valère and Tacmas - are men is stress situations, their constancy being tested. Dahlin injects just the right amount of tremolo that he makes the characters feel dramatically real. He's also a natural actor - his body language is so expressive that his slightest gesture amplifies what he's singing. It's a pity we don't hear more of him in this country because he has that balance of lyricism and thoughtfulness that makes roles come alive. As he was singing, I pondered the difference between "English" and French Baroque. Would that we could hear Dahlin more frequently in this country!
Please also see my review of Hippolyte et Aricie at Glyndebourne (William Christie)