Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Americanized story of Armide in Gennevilliers

Armide, Théâtre de Gennevilliers September 21 2010

Pascal Rambert, Antoine Plante, Zachary Wilder, Isabelle Cals,  Lauren Snouffer, Sarah Mesko and Sumner Thompson

Director ..... Pascal Rambert
Conductor ..... Antoine Plante

Armide ..... Isabelle Cals
Renaud ..... Zachary Wilder
Hidraut/Haine ..... Sumner Thompson
Phénice/Glorie ..... Lauren Snouffer
Sidonie/Sagesse ..... Sarah Mesko

Mercury Baroque - Houston, TX

Armide was the last tragedy composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully.  Only a year after its completion he died. There are several operas Armide/Armida based on the same story [La Gerusalemme liberata, written by Torquato Tasso], of which Lully's was the first. The list of famous Armide's includes the one by Glück, but also Rinaldo by Handel (the basic storyline is the same), Armida by Haydn, by Rossini, and so on.

If you're not sure whether or not you listened to bits and pieces of Lully's Armide, listen to this ~9 minutes long video with Anders Dahlin singing and Les Arts Florissants playing the most famous part of the opera - Passacaille.

Outside of France Lully's operas are very rarely performed. They remain rarity even in France although you may catch one or two productions every year. I think the main reason for such a low frequency is a prohibitive cost of producing these operas: you need an orchestra specialized in this kind of music, quite a few singers to fill the cast, the chorus and the dancers. So when I heard Armide was to be performed in a suburban theater of Paris I booked my tic with no hesitation.

Surprise?! Oh yes, and quite a big one! The orchestra,  Mercury Baroque, came from Houston. They perform on ancient instruments and are excellent by any standard! How would you expect a very good orchestra performing on ancient instruments and performing flawlessly Lully's Armide in Texas? Baroque is not very popular in the US, and even less so in Texas -- Lully in Texas, we love it! ;)

Next surprise was the Pascal Rambert's production that was first presented at the Wortham Center in Houston in May of 2009. The initial idea is more than pertinent (read the synopsis of Armide here): it situates Armide and Renaud in Iraq, during the Gulf War. Armide is an Iraqi powerful woman and Renaud is a GI. That frame for the action works very well and one could only regret that the analogy wasn't a bit more expanded. Most importantly though, one does get the essence -- Renaud was charmed and imprisoned, but eventually liberated from the seductive clutches of Armide's. Here are a few pics ©Amitaca Sarkar.

Prologue Sagesse and Gloire come with the Iraqi and the US flags.

Garden scene: Armide fails to kill the sleepy Renaud with a golf club.

La Haine (armed man in black) come to warn Armide that her faith with Renaud is bound to be fatal.

17 months after its premiere in Houston the show arrived to the Gennevilliers Theater, a theater that I visited for the first time last night. It is literally one metro-stop outside of Paris but in a direction opposite to where I live.

Act-4 was cut out, of course, and the production is obviously thinned when compared to the Robert Carsen's production at Théâtre des Champs Elysées a couple of years ago. But the music finesse remains intact and the whole show very enjoyable. I wish Rambert preferred to concentrate more onto developing the dramatic side of the show, rather than dwelling on aesthetics, but that's only a minor remark. All the performers were good. Isabelle Cals gave a very strong performance of the title role -- it is long and she sang it very-very well.  Zachary Wilder incarnated a musically refined Renaud even if the volume of his voice was often too low. The other three singers were very good too (Lauren Snouffer, Sarah Mesko, Sumner Thompson) with Snouffer being my personal favorite.

To sum it up, the evening was very enjoyable. Thanks to all the performers, and kudos to the Orchestra and Antoine Plante!

Wilder, Cals, Snouffer, Mesko, and Thompson

Here is a video filmed in Houston a year ago. It's my preferred passage, namely Passacaille:

Garden scene:

And here is a clip from France-3 TV:


  1. "Lully in Texas"

    Puh-lease, we are awhl not tha-ut uncivilized!

  2. Of courrrrrse!
    But what are the odds to find a baroque orchestra in Houston, not playing solely Handel (and occasionally Bach and Purcell), but also Lully [and being very-very good at it]?

    But hey, this kind of surprises... I want them every day ;)

  3. Congratulations MERCURY BAROQUE on your tour to France!