Measure for measure

Ensemble Doulce Mémoire, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake , Robert Spano’s Sibelius , H&H’s St. Matthew Passion
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  April 26, 2006

POINTED MUSIC FROM TCHAIKOVSKY: Not so pointed movement from Bourne.  “Great Ball at the Court of France,” which Ensemble Doulce Mémoire presented at the First Congregational Church in Cambridge last Friday, under the auspices of the Boston Early Music Festival, was a reminder that classical music used to be all about two popular forms, song and dance. The setting was the arrival of Maria de’ Medici from Florence to marry Henri IV king of France in 1600, about the same time that a great ball made it possible for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to meet. Song gave voice to one’s romantic yearnings; dance was one of the few arenas where those yearnings could be addressed.

The BEMF program note reminded us that Maria brought with her “commedia dell’arte troupes, dance masters, singers, and musicians of her family’s court.” Doulce Mémoire’s touring “Great Ball” was a more modest affair, with four reed players (headed by company director Denis Raisin Dadre) on dulcians, shawms, and recorders, a lute/guitar player, a percussionist, a singer, and a pair of dancers performing mostly Michael Praetorius and Pierre Guédron before intermission and a variety of 16th-century Italian composers after. Only the dancers sported festive period attire, Marco Bendoni in shirt and hose and then doublet and hose with matching burgundy cap, Bruna Gondoni in a cherry ball gown; the musicians wore unobtrusive shirts and vests and Véronique Bourin a distracting modern black cocktail dress. Bourin’s attractively reedy soprano got lost in the expanse of the church, and she overdid the winks and sly looks in trying to do with her face what she couldn’t with her voice.

There was some fetching byplay between the dancers, but Bendoni wants a more erect carriage and Gondoni a less severe mien, and the pew seating made it difficult to see their feet except when Bendoni was cutting labored capers during the galliard. The traveling version of Jordi Savall’s Hespèrion XXI & La Capella Reial de Catalunya, with greater variety in instrumentation and material, created a more raucous and festive evening when the BEMF brought it to Boston last month.

Still, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire got the point across that Renaissance music is modern, not musty. The (carelessly translated) lyric sheet attested that songwriting hasn’t changed much in 400 years. A maid goes to bed with a passing gentleman; the frustrated narrator laments, “He was not up to the task/As he so clearly showed/Why was I not there?” And the racket produced by the lower-register reeds proved that you don’t have to plug in to get fuzztone.

One modern composer who had the measure of dance was Tchaikovsky, in his ballets, of course, but also in his symphonic music, which has been plundered by choreographers as diverse as George Balanchine, John Cranko, and Boris Eifman. His Symphony No. 5 survived Eifman’s Tchaikovsky and his Nutcracker Mark Morris’s The Hard Nut, so no surprise that Swan Lake comfortably accommodates the Matthew Bourne reimagining, in which all the swans are male. It’s not such a stretch — in the traditional Swan Lake, Prince Siegfried wants something other than the arranged marriage with a princess bride to which his royal position has fated him. Substitute gay male for swan and it’s the same story. Bourne could have hewn even closer to the original by changing Prince Siegfried into Princess Brünnhilde and keeping all the swans female.

1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
Related: Hit and miss, Ballet birds, Big like the motherland, More more >
  Topics: Dance , Entertainment, Music, Jean Sibelius,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY JEFFREY GANTZ
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MAMA KNOWS BEST: THE HUNTINGTON'S FEEL-GOOD A RAISIN IN THE SUN  |  March 19, 2013
    Fifty-four years after its groundbreaking Broadway premiere, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun remains as dense, and as concentrated, as its title fruit.
  •   LIGHT WAVES: BOSTON BALLET'S ''ALL KYLIÁN''  |  March 13, 2013
    A dead tree hanging upside down overhead, with a spotlight slowly circling it. A piano on stilts on one side of the stage, an ice sculpture's worth of bubble wrap on the other.
  •   HANDEL AND HAYDN'S PURCELL  |  February 04, 2013
    Set, rather confusingly, in Mexico and Peru, the 1695 semi-opera The Indian Queen is as contorted in its plot as any real opera.
  •   REVIEW: MAHLER ON THE COUCH  |  November 27, 2012
    Mahler on the Couch , from the father-and-son directing team of Percy and Felix Adlon, offers some creative speculation, with flashbacks detailing the crisis points of the marriage and snatches from the anguished first movement of Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony.
  •   THE NUTCRACKER: BUILDING A BETTER MOUSETRAP?  |  November 19, 2012
    "Without The Nutcracker , there'd be no ballet in America as we know it."

 See all articles by: JEFFREY GANTZ