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
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.
the audience members seated in Finney Chapel were Bernard Holland
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.)
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.
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
from The Wall Street Journal. © 2002 Dow Jones & Company,
Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Presents Modern Premiere of Royer's Le Pouvoir de l'Amour
Students and professionals collaborate in revival of forgotten
By Heidi Waleson
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
ballet's missing instrumental parts.
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.
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
with permission from Early Music America magazine.
© 2002 Early Music America.
Photos by Larry Kasperek