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Le Pouvoir de l'Amour Triumphant

When Professor of Harpsichord Lisa Goode Crawford staged Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer's Le Pouvoir de l'Amour last winter, the classical music world took notice.

The baroque opera-ballet had languished on a library shelf until Crawford, in Versailles on a yearlong sojourn supported by a research status grant from Oberlin, plucked it from oblivion. Oberlin's modern premiere of the work was funded by the Florence Gould Foundation and presented with the support of the Conservatory and the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, with assistance from the New York Baroque Dance Company and a cadre of Conservatory students and alumni.

Among the audience members seated in Finney Chapel were Bernard Holland of
The New York Times and Heidi Waleson, representing The Wall Street Journal and Early Music America. Both critics were suitably impressed. Holland wrote that the period-instrument orchestra conducted by Michael Sponseller '97 and Goode Crawford was "sturdy and . . . admirable," and that "Oberlin's revival of forgotten opera was an unequivocal blessing." Waleson's complete observations are reprinted on the following pages courtesy of her publications.

Opera: Resurrecting Royer
By Heidi Waleson

The Oberlin Conservatory of Music quietly made music history with its recent modern premiere, in a rare, historically accurate performance, of a forgotten 18th-century opera-ballet, Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer's Le Pouvoir de l'Amour. Royer is remembered today, when he is remembered at all, for his harpsichord music. Even in his own time, his operas were eclipsed by those of his more powerful contemporary, Jean Philippe Rameau. Yet he was an important figure in his day; indeed, his royal jobs ranged from music teacher to the children of Louis XV to inspector general of the Opera.

Oberlin Conservatory harpsichord professor Lisa Goode Crawford, who launched the Oberlin project, came upon his operas when she was working on the critical edition of Royer's harpsichord works, some of which were based on opera excerpts. Intrigued, she spent a year at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles creating a performing edition of
Le Pouvoir de l'Amour (1743), aided by Gerard Geay, a researcher at the centre, who composed missing viola and choral parts for the score. That was the start of the collaboration.

When production time came around, the centre sent its choir director, Olivier Schneebeli, to Oberlin to coach the student chorus. Oberlin also enlisted the aid of Catherine Turocy, artistic director of the New York Baroque Dance Company and a superb reconstructor/creator of baroque choreography, and Patricia Ranum, an expert in French rhetorical/musical declamation.

Le Pouvoir de l'Amour proved to be well worth the effort. A delightful score, it resounds with elegance, expressiveness, and gentle wit. As befits its subject - the power of love - the opera relies less on high drama and tragedy than those of Royer's predecessor, Jean-Baptiste Lully, and each of its acts, or entrées, has an unusually straightforward plot. In the alle gorical Prologue, Prometheus brings fire and awakens mankind, only to see the evil Passions (hatred, jealousy, etc.) overwhelm his creation. Fortunately, Imagination comes to the rescue, invoking Love to harness those demons. In the first entrée, the mother of Zelide tries to keep her from falling in love but is thwarted; in the third, Apollo himself falls prey to Cupid's arrows and persuades a savage people to drop its habit of blood sacrifice in favor of allegiance to Love. (The Oberlin production omitted the second entrée, which is about King Midas.)

Dancing and singing are of equal importance in French opera-ballet, and Le Pouvoir struck that balance eloquently. Framed by a simple, baroque-style set of flats by Don McBride (lacking theatrical facilities, Finney Chapel, the acoustically fine performance space, allowed nothing more elaborate), Victoria Vaughan's formal stage direction meshed fluidly with Ms. Turocy's exquisite dances. While the solo singing, performed by students or recent graduates, did not have total professional polish, it was stylish and well-coached, and there were a few ear-catching standouts. The chorus was excellent, and the choreography, which relies on low leg extensions, 90-degree turnout, and great upper-body expressiveness in its stylized way, was nicely calibrated to match the dancers' different levels.

Highlights included mezzo Melanie Besner's swaggering L'Amour and soprano Ann Harley's imposing L'Imagination of the Prologue, and the delicious dance in which the
Plaisirs (Ligia Pinheiro, Ann Cooper Albright, and Anne Timberlake), in frilly white dresses, chained up the writhing Passions (Hailey MacNear, Aymeric Dupre La Tour, and Peter Tantsits) with flower garlands and sent them slinking away. In the lighthearted first entrée, professional dancers from the New York Baroque Dance Company stole the show. The sublime Caroline Copeland, as Doris, who tries to distract the singing lovers, was set against Timothy Kasper, Love's emissary, whose breathtaking turns and jaunty demeanor won out, allowing the lovers Ms. Harley and Leif Aruhn-Solen to unite in a charming duet. The third entrée experimented with tragedy as Apollo (Mr. Aruhn-Solen) battled the Sauvages bent on the sacrifice of his beloved Marphise (Malia Bendi Merad). Its center is a long, dramatic duet for the lovers, and Ms. Merad, a Conservatory junior, with a perfectly placed, expressive soprano and excellent French diction, proved a singer to watch. The grand finale, a joyful, invigorating dance in which the Sauvages, two by two, were persuaded to make love instead of performing human sacrifices, was a delight. Michael Sponseller led the superb, 26-member, period-instrument orchestra, made up of alumni and current graduate and undergraduate students, which played with stylish fervor and swing and included some standout solo playing. II

Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal. © 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Oberlin Presents Modern Premiere of Royer's Le Pouvoir de l'Amour
Students and professionals collaborate in revival of forgotten work
By Heidi Waleson

Finding a presenting niche for French baroque opera-
ballet, staged in a historically informed manner, is a
difficult task. More power to the Oberlin Conservatory's historical performance department for pulling together the resources to do just that. The project began when harpsichord professor Lisa Goode Crawford, intrigued by the operatic sources of some keyboard works by Joseph-Nicholas-Pancrace Royer (c1705-1755), created a performing edition of the composer's forgotten work Le Pouvoir de l'Amour (1743). Crawford did research on the project at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, and a colleague there, Gerard Geay, helped reconstruct the opera-
ballet's missing instrumental parts.

For the production, held on February 8 and 9, 2002, Oberlin fielded a cast of singers, dancers, and a 26-member orchestra of current students and professionals, many of them Oberlin alumni, under the musical direction of Crawford. Victoria Vaughan, assistant director of Oberlin Opera Theater, devised the formal yet fluid period stage direction, and Michael Sponseller, an Oberlin alum, led the orchestra. Distinguished visitors included Olivier Schneebeli, choir director from the Centre at Versailles, who trained the chorus, and rhetorician Patricia Ranum, who instructed the cast in declamation. Catherine Turocy, head of the New York Baroque Dance Company, choreographed and staged the dances, bringing along two of her company dancers to take featured roles.

The opera proved well worth the effort. Though Royer was eclipsed by his contemporary, Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), his Le Pouvoir is a delightful score, imbued with elegance, expressiveness, and gentle wit; it is splendidly balanced between singing and dance. Oberlin staged the allegorical Prologue, in which Love and Imagination triumph over the evil Passions (hatred, jealousy, etc.), as well as the first and third entrées. In the first entrée, the mother of Zelide tries to keep her daughter from falling in love, but is thwarted; in the third and more dramatic entrée, Apollo himself falls prey to Cupid's arrows and persuades a savage people to drop its habit of blood sacrifice in favor of allegiance to love. (The Oberlin production omitted the second entrée, which is about King Midas.) Most pleasing of all was the fact that this highly successful realization was a collaboration of professionals and students. It was also a testament, alas rare these days, of how satisfying fully period stagings of such pieces can be. II

Reprinted with permission from Early Music America magazine.
© 2002 Early Music America.

Photos by Larry Kasperek