Thursday, 17 September 2015

La Nuit de Louis XIV William Christie Versailles

"Pour célébrer le tricentenaire de la mort de Louis XIV, l'orchestre des Arts Florissants, dirigé par William Christie, fait résonner les plus beaux airs de Lully, Charpentier, Delalande, Couperin, Desmaret et de Visée au cœur du château de Versailles, où ils ont été joués pour le plaisir du roi des arts. Bercée par la voix de Denis Podalydès et rythmée par les pas de danse de Nicolas Paul, de l'Opéra de Paris, cette promenade nocturne nous entraîne dans trois espaces emblématiques : l'Atys de Lully enchante l'Opéra royal du château, les Te deum retentissent dans la Chapelle royale, et la musique de cour fait virevolter la galerie des Glaces."

It's not often that we can hear a concert in the heart of the Palace of Versailles. In June, William Christie and Les Arts Florissants marked the 300th anniversary of the death of Louis XIV with a presentaion so unique it should not be missed. Enjoy it here on for a limited period. The camera pans over Versailles at dusk. The palace is huge, a spectacular statement of the Sun King's glory. Yet we hear a single owl, calling from the forests around it. An important detail - think about it. Next. we're in the performance space where Louis XIV would have enjoyed his entertainments. It's lovely, but immediately the film pans to the empty stage.

An actor, Denis Podalydès,  expounds. "La musique nouurit...." every aspect of life. Do not fast forward, since this introduction encapsulates the spirit of French style - intellect, logic, intense passion without maudlin sentimentality, flamboyance energized with rigour.  I don't know the sources of the texts, but Podalydès delivers with passionate commitment.  Each instrument is introduced in turn, like a personage, for if music is divine, its messengers are heroes. Notice, too, the dancer. He moves as if the very sculptures and paintings around him were coming alive. Then you realize how Podalydès's style derives from centuries of theatrical tradition, to Molière and before. And how the spoken voice "sings",  with dramatic cadences and stylized gestures.. Music unites instruments, singers, dancers, dramatists, composers and listeners in rich continuum.

Versailles was Louis XIV's "music as architecture". Jean-Baptiste Lully was his ideal composer, and Lully's Atys (1676) his favourite opera. Atys is a seminal work in music history, and a speciality of William Christie and Les Arts Flo. Christie is looking older these days, but this added to the sense of occasion. With his halo of white hair and wise expression, Christie seems an embodiment of the Age of the Enlightenment, beaming affectionately at his musicians, most of whom he's worked with since they were very young.  He conducts with vigour, inspired by his love of the art to which he's dedicated his whole life. These extracts from Atys were produced with elegance and deep feeling. Again, seamless integration of orchestra, singers and dancers.  The impact came from the sheer excellence of performance, infinitely closer to the ideals of the genre than gimmicky period costumesfor those who can't use their imaginations.

If anything, the second part of the concert is even more profound. Again, we hear the lone owl calling as the night draws in on Versailles. this time the performance takes place in the Chapelle Royale, for we are commemorating the death of Louis XIV. Podalydès recites extracts from the Sermon sur la mort et la brièveté de la vie (1662). Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, the author, was the leading theologian of his time, and a great orator, so this performance also made the connection between religion and theatre. Orators are showmen, working on the emotions of their audience. This also connects the role of religion as part of the power structure. "Politics as theatre" could describe Louis XIV's monarchy , where spectacle glittered over ruthless absolutism.  Bossuet was also Louis XIV's personal chaplain. Louis went for the ultimate in  all things. King and Bishop would have attended Mass in this very chapel. No doubt Bossuet heard  Louis XIV's confessions. Like the call of the owl, this, too, is an important detail. The King ruled in all his glory, but the moment he died, he was mortal, like all men.  This we see, way up above the gilded sculptures and marble columns,  a dancer writhes like a soul in Purgatory.

 Drumstrokes introduce extracts from Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Te Deum. Watch carefully at how Christie throws himself bodily into his conducting. Again, this isn't for show. He's in symbiosis with his singers and players, bringing out together the full force of the music. In the angelic Lully Regina Caeli , he sings the Alleluias. silently, at one with the trio and their intricate interactions. The camera pans to the chapel's painted ceiling with its images of heaven. A trio from Henri Desmarest Usquequo Domine  follows and then 5the choral finale from Lalande Te Deum laudamaus, another Les Arts Flo speciality.

The concert now moves to the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles' crowning glory. Ordinary tourists may not  get to see the chandeliers lit up like this, their light refracted in multitude, illuminating the entire room. Podalydès is seen, walking silently in awe. Echoes of his "La musique nouurit....." speech resonate.  Now, at last we see the audience. They're wearing ordinary street clothes. Polyadès smiles and welcomes them in though they don't seem to notice because Les Arts Flo are playing again. Podalydès then addresses the throng : perhaps he's Louis XIV proud of what he's achieved throwing his arms open, too, to the world outside, still visible though dusk encroaches.

Podalydès leads Eloide Fonnard by the hand as she sings Charpentier Les plaisirs de Versailles,, as the King might have led a muse in one of the mythical enactments he enjoyed so much.  More Charpentier, more Lalande and music written for Versailles. Now the singers walk through the crowd,  smiling and occasionally striking dance poses, followed by the theorbo player.and then the whole chorus. Again, this is more than detail, but central to meaning.

Christie and Les Arts Flo concluded with some of  Charpentier's incidental music for Molière's Le malade imaginaire, shocking "new" work that departed from Lully's stranglehold on  French music., paving the way for Rameau and masters to come. "LOUIS ! LOUIS ! and "Mille fois, mille fois", the singers sing. Is Charpentier picking up a theme from Lully's Atys ?  Just as the candles and mirrors of the Galerie des Glaces reflect light, the musical achievements of the reign of Louis XIV are reflected endlessly so long as there are those who listen, care and create anew. Suddenly, the Hall of Mirrors is eclipsed by  a spectacular fireworks display on the terraces, such as Louis XIV adored. Christie waves his arms in a flourish. He looks exhausted, but deliriously happy, and so he should be. For this was truly the "Night of Louis XIV".

Also enjoy this docu about Louis XIV and baroque dance

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