Last night’s chamber opera doublebill, La Descente d’Orphé aux Enfers and La couronne de Fleurs by Marc-Antoine Charpentier was breathtaking in its beauty and elegance. The small orchestra, directed by Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, was seated on stage, surrounded by a giant garland of flowers on the stage floor (The Crown of Flowers) The singers and dancers worked around them, weaving a story about Flore, the goddess of flowers, bringing back spring after a terrible winter. From the program: . . . to whomever most eloquently sings about the recent deeds of Louis XIV, Flore promises she will bestow a crown of flowers.
The second opera, a play within a play, the Descent of Orpheus to the Underworld, told the story of Euridice being poisoned by a snake while picking flowers for her wedding to Orphée. Orphée then travels to the Underworld in order to win back Euridice to life through his songs. King Pluton finally yields with the condition that Orphée must not look back at Euridice before they have left. The opera was comically interrupted at that point, by Pan, a god of forests, with the message that the composer Lully has ordered a halt to the contest. Flore decides to award each of the contestants a flower from the crown, and the opera ended with each singer with a flower in hand, encircling the orchestra on stage, a truly elegant way to close this program.
At intermission, we accidentally bumped into fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout who immediately recognized us and said, “Hi, Carl!” We first met him in Saintes, France, three years ago and you may recall from my post that he was so grateful to meet people who spoke in English since he did not speak French. We saw him again two years ago at the 2011 Boston Early Music Festival and he not only remembered us, but also remembered the builder of our fortepiano, Philip Belt! We told him someday we’d like to hear him play in Honolulu!