Review: Mêler L’Or De Ses Rayons – Two Operas for the Sun King

Anna Stephenson 28 April 2019
Image credit: Mêler L'Or De Ses Rayons via Facebook

★★★★★

Mêler L’or De Ses Rayons, a collaboration between the Cambridge University Baroque Ensemble and the Emmanuel College Music Society, respects the tradition of baroque opera but never fails to keep it fresh, crisp and engaging. The programme combines the prologue of little-performed Céphale et Procris, by Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, one of the better-known female composers of that era, and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s more famous Les arts florissants. Both unabashedly celebrate beauty, fun and lightness, through their homage to the Sun King, Louis XIV.

Nymphs, gods, and personifications of arts such as Poetry and Architecture move and dance around Eden thoughtfully, leaving space for stillness and the supporting chorus.

Working in the small yet perfectly formed space of Emmanuel Chapel, the production team still managed to bring the outside in. Director Madeline Claire de Berrié uses greenery and a carefully positioned blossoming tree to evoke idyllic scenes, almost reminiscent of a Cambridge spring. The airy, floral costumes were at one with this feeling of freshness and freedom, although not all of the characters’ costumes were in keeping with this effect, occasionally looking slightly mismatched.

At not much longer than an hour, Mêler l’or de ses rayons is both the perfect introduction to baroque opera and the ideal post-revision pick-me-up. Don’t be intimidated if you’re not already an opera fan – seeing this production is like a long, cool drink after the endless caffeine binges of the stressed-out Cambridge student. I left utterly charmed.

The baroque ensemble wasn’t immediately cohesive, but they soon came together and proved perfectly suited to the ornate yet intimate chapel setting, providing a well-balanced whole which almost never overwhelmed the singing.

It was a treat to see and hear instruments traditionally used in baroque music, such as the viola da gamba and the baroque violin. De Berrié deftly balances such traditional touches with dynamism and freshness; the space is fully exploited in a commanding entrance by Discorde (Tom Butler). The aisle of the chapel could allow each entrance to be a series of formal processions, but while the first one seems almost like the stylised appearance of the nymphlike Beauxbatons students in The Goblet of Fire, this format is not overly repeated and so each character’s introduction to the stage remains personal and exciting.

The work of the French language coach, Lucie Aman, paid off; it was wonderful to hear such clarity and accuracy of French expression so consistently across the performers. The singers often acted as well as they sang- Tiffany Charnley’s dazzling performance of La Paix was particularly vivid and fluent.

Gopal Kambo’s depiction of La Peinture was another highlight, reaching a range of notes with depth and clarity, and cast members harmonised as beautifully together as they sang alone.

The programme, containing the French libretto with an English translation, is gorgeously produced and by far the best souvenir I’ve walked away from a Cambridge production with. Almost all aspects of the performance and production embodied the same delicacy and care.

This performance, while not quite transporting me to Eden, created an enchanting idyll all of its own. I could have watched it twice.