Comedic opera brought to life at Croisements Festival
By Zhang Qian
The Croisements Festival, a major cultural event series organized by the French Embassy in China, is in full swing.
Now in its 10th year, the festival’s program will include over 400 events in more than 30 cities from April to July, supported by local institutions and cultural centers.
Events are structured into 10 categories, including visual arts, architecture and design, new media, classical and contemporary music, dance, theater, film, literature and children’s entertainment.
One highlight of festivities here in Shanghai was the opening show on Tuesday, comic opera “La Double Coquette.” Performed with support from the Shanghai Spring International Music Festival, the show was an adaptation of “La Coquette Tropee,” first premiered in 1752.
French soprano Isabelle Poulenard and US tenor Robert Getchell played the major roles. The Amaryllis Ensemble from France, a group known for their interpretations of Baroque music, performed in accompaniment.
French comedic opera — or “opera comique” — emerged in the early 18th century in the form of humorous and satirical shows intended for popular audiences. In the early days, many of these performances featured songs with new words inserted into existing melodies. By the middle of the 18th century, some composers started to write original songs influenced by Italian opera.
“La Coquette Tropee,” written by Charles Simon Favart and composed by Antoine Dauvergne, is considered one of the defining works of its time, when musical theater was making its way from European courts to the masses, according to Tao Xin, a professor at Shanghai Conservatory of Music.
“The transition was basically completed in ‘La Double Coquette,’ which features a story of human interests,” says Tao.
Although the opera wowed 18th-century French audiences with its fresh story and music, it has rarely been staged since. To make the play’s music and dramatic structure more accessible to modern audiences, adaptations were made by contemporary composer Gerard Pesson and writer Pierre Alferi.
Established in 1995, the Amaryllis Ensemble is dedicated to interpreting Baroque music as well as more modern musical genres like jazz.
“We don’t want to display the music like it’s in a museum,” says Violaine Cochard, music director of the ensemble. “The old music is beautiful and we are very interested in performing it today. But bringing contemporary sensibilities to contemporary pieces works well with audiences today.”
Other festival events to be staged in Shanghai include a film concert by Quatuor Prima Vista at the Shanghai Poly Theater (159 Baiyin Rd, Jiading District) on May 12, an exhibition entitled “Light” at the Minsheng Art Museum (Bldg F, 570 Huaihai Rd W.) from June 1 to July 1, a dance performance by the Roots on May 26 at Shanghai Daning Theater (1222 Pingxingguan Rd), and the Fête de la Musique on June 19 at Qianshuiwan Culture Center (179 Yichang Rd).