Blow - Venus & Adonis (preceded by Begin the Song)

Opéra Comique, Paris, Thursday December 13 2012

Conductor: Bertrand Cuiller. Production: Louise Moaty. Choreography: Françoise Denieau. Sets: Adeline Caron. Costumes: Alain Blanchot. Lighting: Christophe Naillet. Adonis: Marc Mauillon. Venus: Céline Scheen. Cupid: Romain Delalande. Chorus & Orchestra of Les Musiciens du Paradis. Caen Children’s Chorus.

I had never listened to Venus and Adonis. In my usual blind prejudice, I supposed it was pale Purcell. Turns out it's a very fine, varied score and a work which combines, in that typical English way, delicately underplayed tragedy and gentle humour. Here it was above all beautifully played by Les Musiciens du Paradis, who are new to me, presumably at a fairly low pitch as the overall sound was mellow and the singers I read were countertenors (supposing the source was correct) sounded, here, like plain tenors - at least two of them very good, by the way. Céline Scheen stood out for her creamy soprano voice (and, my neighbour insisted, the beautiful curve of her back in her blue, mythological drapery); Marc Mauillon, in bare legs and red breeches, stood out less than I expected, but the part is fairly brief - he barely gets time to make love to her before being packed off to hunt, and when he comes back, he dies.

This was a candlelit production. As the curtain rose, there was just one box of candles alight on the stage apron and two boys in black, the first crouching with a taper to light more, the other playing with a gilded openwork globe with one inside. In the wings, in front of some shadowy trees and lanterns on posts, there appaerd to be high stacks of wooden cabinets with mouldings and cornices, some like long-case clocks, some on wooden trolleys - in fact, looking like furniture piled up at a flea market. These turned out to be light boxes too, and the chorus of shepherds and shepherdesses, here not in pastoral gear but Charles II court costumes, all black and all different, lit them as they arrived. Rearranged, the cabinets, lamp posts and trees formed the necessary glade. So the action (of which in fact there's little) progressed in this soft golden light against velvet black, making hand gestures stand out significantly. The cast included children (Cupid was sung by a boy), six dancers whose dances were only slightly more formal than the courtly ones done by all the chorus and children together, hunting dogs and doves. Cupid sang on a pedestal; Venus leaned on it. Naughty boys smashed the whole glade up, strewing flowers all over the stage, before the final tragic scene.

It was a very handsome show and it would be nice if it came out on Blu-Ray - ordinary DVD won't do because it can't handle the deep black or the flickering light, and the YouTube clip I found doesn't do it justice at all: it looks pale and wan. One strange thing. I believe the production attempted to use "period" English pronunciation ("night" pronounced something like "nicht," "love" as "luv" and "lovers" as "luvvers"); but as everyone was French, the result was simply weird and I had to read the French supertitles to decipher what was being said or sung.

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