Friday, May 13, 2016

The Opera, La Fête du Ruel

“La Feste de Ruel” is a far cry from Mozart’s complicated shenanigans or Verdi’s epic dramas. This was to be a political piece with a very pointed message:  I, Armand, have a bodacious garden, and you, Louis, are the Best. King. Ever. 

If you were less annoying, maybe. But I doubt it.
The shepherdess Iris is in love. Not with her handsome swain Tircis, who pleads in vain for her attention, but with the outdoors: “I love the sweet songs of the birds, I love our flowered fields, I love the rippling of the waters, the eternal greenness of these gardens.” Other characters try to talk her round, but in a startlingly modern move, she rejects love-making for landscaping. “One will sooner see the sun stop in its tracks, before I might subject my fate to the capricious whims of an annoying husband.” Presumably she lives happily ever after.

 Then -- unexpected plot twist -- the god Pan arrives! Even more unexpectedly, he doesn’t care what the shepherds get up to. Let them live their own lives! (I’m telling you, this opera was way ahead of its time.) He has his own message: the garden is green and the world is safe enough for shepherds, all because of the great Sun King. He has vanquished the enemies of France and brought peace. He has built giant canals across the land and brought prosperity. He has created palaces for himself and brought glory. O happy subjects, to live in such a time, with such a monarch!

Louis as celestial object
Plot-wise, meh. The libretto was probably written by a friend of Armand’s. The frequent sun references are hardly even allegorical. “But I see the Sun appearing, all nature adores him, how brilliant he is, how he inspires love!” It doesn’t take an English major to winkle out the hidden meaning here. 

 Charpentier, though, took the project seriously. (Of course it’s never a bad idea to butter up a king with jobs to hand out.) He gives Iris and Tircis some lovely music to sing. A chorus of shepherds echoes Pan’s paeans to Louis. Charpentier takes care that a forgettable libretto won’t be so quickly forgotten when the most powerful man of his age is listening to it.  Too bad Louis never heard it.

This little piece of art is a fascinating snapshot of life 1685, in the world inhabited by Armand, Charpentier, and Louis.

No comments: