When one goes to the opera, one sometimes likes to recall how many years have passed since the work was last performed. Spectators of Les Fêtes d’Hébé who indulge in this test of memory are unlikely to come up with a ready answer: Rameau’s opera-ballet has not been performed in a staged version for the last 247 years. It makes a striking comeback in a production with ballet, directed by choreographer Thomas Lebrun for the Paris Opera Academy.
Thomas Lebrun’s programme note is more poetic than explanatory and begins thus:
“There is love
There is war,
There are lies,
There are things left unsaid, games of power…
In the end, Les Fêtes d’Hébé accords well with our own time.”
Should one see in this versified form a humoristic nod to Rameau’s work, which is epic, lyrical and pastoral by turns and whose form has defied any attempt to stage it for the past 247 years? First performed at the Royal Academy of Music in Paris on 21st May 1739, Les Fêtes d’Hébé was a triumphant success, crowning its composer with glory after the scandal of Hippolyte et Aricie and Les Indes Galantes. Based on a libretto conceived essentially to showcase brilliant displays of singing and dancing, Rameau gave free expression to his genius. Indeed, it is difficult to resist this music whose melodic lines conceal marvellous underlying harmonies and pave the way towards German classicism. For this new production at the Amphitheatre, the singers of the Academy will be joined by the Choristers of the Centre for Baroque Music in Versailles and musicians from the Royal College of Music in London, conducted by Jonathan Williams.
I started out from very simple impressions: one colour per entrée. Blue, red and yellow. Thomas Lebrun