Go for Baroque at BAM

Eighteenth-century Baroque is cool again in these French opera-ballets at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House.

Photo by Philippe Delval/Courtesy of BAM

One of the year’s best-reviewed and most-Oscar-nominated films, The Favourite, features a memorably weird dance sequence to a live recitation of a Handel concerto. While the choreography in that scene is intentionally anachronistic, the gilded setting and extravagantly orchestrated presentation are certainly not. The Favourite is set in the early-18th-century court of Queen Anne, and it is entirely reasonable that the British monarchy of the time would have reveled to the sounds and movement of the Baroque era, notably the sort of opera-ballets that continue to be performed today by conductor William Christie and his ensemble, Les Arts Florissants. Christie and his crew will be staging a pair of classical music and dance works first performed in the 1750s by the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau for an extremely limited engagement at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House.

Jean-Philippe Rameau
Photo by Philippe Delval/Courtesy of BAM

The circumstances of the Baroque era will resonate as all too familiar today; despite a grave gap between the few haves and the many have-nots, the wealthy ruling class found increasingly ostentatious means to flaunt their riches with outrageously rococo art, awe-inspiring architecture, and operatic music and balletic dance so densely and complexly crafted that it required the training of a specialized artist class to properly perform it. These pieces would often take the theme of the pastoral, romanticizing the rustic life of the peasantry and intertwining the bucolic with the mythological to add drama. Rameau was France’s leading composer of these sorts of opera, which Christie’s troupe presents, in the style of the time, without barrier between orchestra, singers, and dancers. The entirety of the evening’s performance takes place on a singular plane, allowing for a sweetly homely staging and giving occasion for unlikely and intimate interaction between, say, instrumentalist and solo dancer.

Jean-Philippe Rameau
Photo by Philippe Delval/Courtesy of BAM

Rameau, Maître à Danser (Rameau, Dancing Master) showcases two of the composer’s most beloved works: the meet-cute romance Daphnis et Églé and La Naissance d’Osiris, an allegory commemorating the birth of Louis XVI presented via the metaphor of the genesis of the Egyptian god Osiris. Les Arts Florissants is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2019 and, though the company doesn’t often tour the United States outside of New York, it has long been acknowledged as among the most respected and skilled practitioners of the 18th-century European classical tradition. You won’t want to miss this rare opportunity to indulge in the most sumptuous sort of Western high culture and to experience the sounds and sights of the French Baroque given new life by masters of the form.

Rameau, Maître à Danser
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene
Friday, March 1—Sunday, March 3
7:30 p.m. on March 1 and 2; 3:30 p.m. on March 3
Tickets start at $30

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