|Boston Baroque's music director, Martin Pearlman. (Eric antoniou)|
Presenting drama and beauty in song - and dance
Friday's excellent Boston Baroque concert allowed a glimpse at two very different sides of the character of the French Baroque - one public, one private.
Representing the former was Rameau's opera/ballet "Pigmalion." Each of the two art forms is of equal significance. Singing dominates the first half of the piece, in which Venus causes the sculptor Pigmalion to fall in love with a statue. When the statue comes to life and assumes human form, dance literally takes center stage.
Boston Baroque offered a concert performance, yet made the smart decision to retain the dance. The choreography was by Marjorie Folkman, formerly of the Mark Morris Dance Group, and it was danced by her and Rob Besserer. Eschewing period convention, the dances were abstract yet vividly theatrical and responded as much to the rich variety of Rameau's score as to the plot itself. Folkman's movements were dynamic throughout, Besserer's somewhat more subdued.
Tenor Lawrence Wiliford took over the title role after a last-minute cast change, but he sounded remarkably confident and polished. His voice had exceptional power throughout his range, with just a bit of edge at the top. Two sopranos filled out the cast: Meredith Hall sang with plush tone in the role of the statue, and Kristen Watson brought lightness and agility to those of Venus and Pigmalion's suitor Céphise.
Where "Pigmalion" is vibrant and dramatic, Charpentier's Missa "Assumpta est Maria" is a work of elusive, mysterious beauty. The last of the composer's dozen Masses, it is full of exquisitely detailed writing for both orchestra and voices. Yet even at its liveliest, there is something hermetic, inward-looking about the music. Most settings of the Gloria begin with a shout of joy; the opening of Charpentier's is surprisingly somber and darkly colored. The Agnus Dei manages to be both soothing and melancholy.
The lengthy program opened with two works by Lully: a suite of short orchestral works assembled by music director Martin Pearlman, and "Regina coeli," a rarely performed motet for three sopranos and organ.
Boston Baroque's performances were polished and full of vitality. The chorus, which supplied many of the vocal soloists for the Charpentier, sounded especially fine. Roberta Anderson, Gail Abbey, and Sabrina Learman were the sopranos in the Lully motet. Pearlman showed yet again his deep understanding of this multifaceted musical era.