This was my first time back to see the Opera Lafayette in five years. Probably because it’s been five years since they were offering really cheap tickets (for their twentieth anniversary, they offered twenty dollar tickets; five years ago, for their fifteenth anniversary there were, you guessed it, fifteen dollar tickets; hopefully, I can go back before their twenty-fifth anniversary).
In this eighteenth century opera-ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau, the word ‘pleasures’ (plaisirs) kept coming up. ‘Pleasure’ was even a character in the slightly connected tableaus that made up the work. Pleasure, really, is what it’s all about. The music, the plots (such as they are) are all about sensuous, though rarely actively erotic, pleasures. It’s like a massive, pleasure generating machine. You can almost see elegantly dressed figures in mid-eighteenth century garb walking about an immaculate garden discussing the pleasure of love and poetry and music and dance.
A classical Indian dance troupe was incorporated into the work and it was absolutely seamless. It blended with the faint orientalism of the work and, unless you already knew, the average viewer would not have guessed that this wasn’t a regular part of any production of the work.
Six dancers played ‘water’ or, to be more specific, the Nile River. Even when they were not the focus, they were also moving in an undulating fashion to represent their liquid nature and their biggest solo dance was the highlight of the show, but later, some contemporary, hip hop style dancing was briefly thrown. While it put a smile on my face, it also took me out of the piece. I was no longer sitting in a bower next a French noblewoman, watching Rameau’s latest piece, but something modern staged for me in Washington, DC.
Anyway, go see it if you can. And while I’m not about to place Rameau above Lully, I do now count myself a fan.