We attended two more Boston Early Music Festival concerts this week: the Bach Organ mini-festival and Saturday night chamber opera, which combined two of Charpentier’s pieces, La Couronne de Fleurs and La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers.
The two pieces were written separately, but for this performance, the directors combined them. La Couronne de Fleurs depicts the goddess Flora holding a contest to see which shepherd can sing the most fulsome aria in praise of King Louis XIV. The winner gets the titular crown of flowers. The shepherds and shepherdesses sing until Pan interrupts to tell them mere shepherds aren’t up to the task of praising someone as wonderful as the king. Flora says that’s all right, at least they tried, and divides the flowers among the whole group.
The Orpheus play is two short acts and follows the usual plot: Orpheus and Euridice are about to get married. A snake bites her and she dies. Orpheus is going to kill himself but Apollo persuades him to talk to Pluto instead. In the second act, he arrives in hell, sings sweetly, and persuades Pluto in a lovely dramatic musical back-and-forth. When last seen, Orpheus is heading back to the light with Euridice behind him, hand on his shoulder.
The director and producer decided to combine the two by inserting the “incomplete” Orpheus and Euridice story as the last of the shepherds’ arias (and an inside joke when the performance is interrupted by Lully, not Pan). I thought it sounded hokey, but it had the effect of giving the tragedy of Orpheus and Euridice a happy-for-now ending. On the one hand, you know she’s going to stumble he’s going to look around and he loses her forever, but you don’t have to watch it and you can believe that this time maybe they make it out okay.
I don’t get the inside joke, but it sounds like a wonderful performance. 🙂
I don’t understand it myself, but the audience laughed heartily. Apparently Lully, a favorite of the king, held a position that gave him the right to terminate any operatic performance he didn’t like.