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June 19, 2007

Les Indes Galantes
Posted by Teresa at 12:30 PM * 33 comments

Found on YouTube: scenes from a reconstructed performance of Les Indes Galantes (1735), a Baroque* opéra-ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau. It has Turks, Incas, Conquistadores, beautiful Indian maidens, long-separated lovers recognizing each other under improbable circumstances, a superfluity of mythological personifications hanging from the flyloft on ropes, and an exploding volcano. (The libretto.)

Specimens:

Les Sauvages, Rondeau des Indes Galantes. This is the one to watch if you’re only watching one. It isn’t all just buffalo mudheads, amusing though they are. (If you’re on a slow connection, here’s the short version.)

Les Sauvages, Régnez plaisirs et jeux.

Da Capo, ensemble of Les Indes Galantes, avec chief reconstructor William Christie.

From the first entrée, Le Turc Généreux: Panzarella and another Panzarella, or perhaps another portion of the same Panzarella. It involves Turks, shipwrecks, and long-separated lovers. Matelotes dance with harem girls. Possibly Rameau & Co. were making their budget by recycling props from other Baroque theatre pieces involving Turks, shipwrecks, and long-separated lovers.

Nex, scenes seven and eight of Les Incas du Pérou, starring the Inca ruler Huascar, Don Carlos the Conquistador, and Princess Phani. If you’re having trouble following the action in the latter part of the video, understand that Huascar is commanding a volcano to erupt and bury him. It goes like this:

HUASCAR
Non, non, rien n’égale ma rage.
Je suis témoin de leur félicité.
Faut-il que mon coeur irrité
Ne puisse être vengé d’un si cruel outrage?

(Le volcan se rallume, te le tremblement de terre recommence.)

HUASCAR
La flamme se rallume encore,
Loin de l’éviter, je l’implore …
Abîmes embrasés, j’ai trahi les autels.
Exercez l’emploi du tonnerre,
Vengez les droits des immortels,
Déchirez le sein de la terre
Sous mes pas chancelants!
Renversez, dispersez ces arides montagnes,
Lancez vos feux dans ces tristes campagnes,
Tombez sur moi, rochers brûlants.

(Le volcan vomit des rochers enflammés qui écrasent le criminel Huascar.)

(“So there,” as one so often finds oneself murmuring at the end of opera scenes and Bible readings.)

If you’d rather just have the music, you can watch les Musiciens du Louvres’ concert performance of the Rondeau des Indes Galantes, i.e. the hit single from the cast album.

Elsewhere, an Amsterdam ensemble plays quite a bit of other music from Les Indes Galantes: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. Warning: they’re adherents of the duck-call school of Baroque instrumentation.

But there’s more.

When I was still in the “What in the world is this?” stage, googling around to find out more about Les Indes Galantes, I found François R. Velde’s charming and informative review of a performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Appended to this was Velde’s A Digression on Les Sauvages:

In September 1725, two “savages”, i.e. Native Americans captured in French-held Louisiana Territory, were exhibited at a fair in Paris. They were about 25, well-built, and in their native dress. They performed three dances, representing Peace, War and Victory: one had the full regalia of a chief, the other was dressed as a simple warrior. Observers found it hard to recognize what was being described by the dances, but then, as one remarked, “perhaps they would have found it impossible to understand us if we had tried to represent the same things to us” (cultural relativism, so early!).

One observer was Jean-Philippe Rameau, who wrote a harpsichord piece a few years later, called Les Sauvages. The piece was published in the Nouvelles Suites of 1728, and re-used in a ballet scene of Les Indes Galantes, as the Dance of the Peace Pipe. The opera-ballet itself was a flop, but the music proved quite popular. In fact, Les Sauvages was one of the most popular pieces of French music throughout the 18th century: it was played every year during the free concert given in Paris on the King’s Feast Day up to the Revolution.

What I find interesting is how this piece travelled: it actually returned to the New World. Around the middle of the century, in the Caribbean island of Dominica, a group of French immigrants were having a party, to which a number of natives [last year’s propaganda led me to believe they had all been killed by Columbus, but apparently a few were left] were present. Rameau’s dance was played, and immediately roused the enthusiasm of the natives, who started dancing in their own fashion to the tune, and danced themselved to exhaustion. Rameau was informed of his success, which he found the most flattering because it was sincere and pure.

It also travelled to the other end of the Earth: about the same time, a French Jesuit priest at the Imperial Court of China gave his hosts a sampler of Western music, and performed Rameau’s Sauvages. The piece met with bafflement…

This odd episode is also referred to in the summary of Les Indes Galantes at Naxos.com, which notes that
…The entrée Les sauvages includes the earlier harpsichord piece of that name, a work with which the Jesuit missionary Amiot unsuccessfully tried to charm the ears of Mandarins in Peking a little later in the century, leading him to form curious biological theories.
But what those theories might have been, it doesn’t say.
Comments on Les Indes Galantes:
#1 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 02:17 PM:

I have some version or other of Les Indes on my Netflix queue, fairly high up on the list. And this makes me even happier that it's so high on the list!

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 02:25 PM:

Tombez sur moi, rochers brûlants

Calling upon burning boulders to fall upon me? Sounds like a normal day at the office.

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 02:31 PM:

The Caribs of Dominica still exist, they have a Reserve on one side of the island.

#4 ::: Howard Weaver ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 04:26 PM:

All this, and an opera fan, too.

Reminds me of my younger days.

#6 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 04:30 PM:

And there is a BBC DVD available; I suppose the YouTube clips are ripped from it, or even guerrilla marketing.

#7 ::: Scott Spiegelberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 05:10 PM:

You had me so confused, thinking I had clicked on the wrong blog in my Bloglines feed. I would expect this post from one of my 90 classical music blog feeds, rather than here. What's next, Kyle Gann writing about science fiction?

Seriously, very interesting. I shall be sending my classical music readers to this post.

#8 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 06:52 PM:

If you’re having trouble following the action in the latter part of the video, here's some French.

Not helpful to some of us cretins [grin]. English translation, por favor?

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 08:16 PM:

Yeah, Jeff, I agree. Like does Le volcan vomit des rochers enflammés qui écrasent le criminel Huascar mean "The volcano vomits flaming rocks which crush the criminal Huascar"? I mean, that sentence is full of cognates, so I can make some guesses. The others, not so much.

Übersetzen Sie, bitte? Oder sind wir zu verstehen, daß Sie glauben, daß wer Französisch versteht nicht, versteht gar nichts?

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 08:38 PM:

Jeff... Xopher... You want some translations, I'm here. I can tell you that it's obvious this opera's plot was the inspiration for Tom Hanks's Joe vs the Volcano.

#11 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 10:19 PM:

William Christie, walking like an Egyptian.

Thanks for that.

#12 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 10:53 PM:

Wow. I'm speechless. I both love and hate this.

Slightly OT, I never realized that Huascar was a real historical figure...I just thought he was the high priest in Prisoners of The Sun.

[googling]

Ooo, Rascar Capac was a real person too! And is now a really scary mummy, just like in The Seven Crystal Balls.

They should make a ballet of Tintin.

#13 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2007, 11:50 PM:

Warning: they’re adherents of the duck-call school of Baroque instrumentation.

I haven't listened to the pieces in question, but this is one of those turns of phrase that forces the mind to look at the familiar world in terrifying new ways. In particular, I fear Dead Can Dance's arrangement of "Saltarello" may never be the same for me. Dammit.

#14 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 12:16 AM:

My parents raised us with much love of opera, so I had to pass this along to Mom, who's just now learning to use the net. Teresa, she asks me to tell you that she read and watched with the same rapt fascination and open-mouthed incredulity as when she first encountered BYU's Living Legends. Both of us thank you for this wholly unexpected delight.

#15 ::: Matthew ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 12:37 AM:

Warning: they’re adherents of the duck-call school of Baroque instrumentation.

This reminds me of the 1712 Overture, by PDQ Bach. During a rather soft section, he uses an actual duck call. Then goes into a bit of a jazz organ riff. Genius!

#16 ::: Dave Luckett sees comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 03:58 AM:

#16's a 'bot.

#17 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 04:00 AM:

Good grief. That was quick.

#18 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 05:15 AM:

Are the "matelotes" actually female sailors, or has the lolcat got your gender agreements?

Not being snarky, but interested to know.

#19 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 11:15 AM:

Thanks to Mary Dell (#12) for reminding me where I'd previously seen the name Huascar!

#20 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 01:23 PM:

Mary Dell @ 12... Capitaine Haddock in a tutu? Mille sabords!

#21 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 01:26 PM:

Serge #20: Mille tonerres de Brest!

#22 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 01:36 PM:

Fragano @ 21... Saperlipopettes! Et j'en passe des meilleurs.

#23 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 01:43 PM:

Serge #22: Ils sont fous, ces Romains...

#24 ::: yabonn ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 04:05 PM:

"cultural relativism, so early!"

Well I suppose it was all the rage at the time. Montesquieu, Voltaire, all that.

Also : "Quand lama faché, lui toujours faire ainsi"

#25 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 04:22 PM:

My wife keeps complaining when I mutter "Tout Gaulois est divisé en quatre parts." She tiresomely insists that it's trois parts, and when I try to bring up the little Gaulish village among the oak trees and near the coast she gets all broody...

#26 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 04:36 PM:

No baroque dance was harmed in the making this production, otherwise we might have had to face the probability that The Chicken is much older than we'd feared.

Alex #18: La Matelotte is the name of a dance (several, actually) and a dance tune, known in France and England during Rameau's time. In English country dance, it's known as The Female Sailor. The tune was later used for the Christmas carol "Masters in the Hall." See the 4th video at the baroque dance link.

#27 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 05:12 PM:

[Cross-thread]: The Chicken of Cheesy Dancing?

[Cross-cross thread]: The Chicken of Fermented Curd Dancing?

#28 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2007, 11:51 PM:

Last Thursday's Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra and Chorus concert included a suite of instrumental movements from Rameau operas, ending with the Chaconne from Les Indes Galantes. Lovely music.

This year's opera was the 1678 tragédie lyrique version of Lully's Psyché, which is being given post-festival presentations in Great Barrington this weekend.

#29 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2007, 12:15 AM:

Patrick @ #19: "Stay, Huascar! The Sun God will not hear your prayers!" has been stuck in my head since I first learned to read. Particularly whenever there's na rpyvcfr

It was probably my first encounter with really thrilling drama...that story and The Blue Lotus, which had that creepy knife-wielding kid with the spiral "crazy" line over his head, made quite an impression. Tintin is wonderful.

#30 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2007, 12:46 AM:

Sheer wonderous delight, here. This is the Paris Opera of The Count of Monte Cristo, which considered itself unrivaled. The sheer gaudiness is a special charm, it somehow transcends cheesiness and becomes what its imitators cannot.

Now, what exactly that is, I don't know. But I like it.

#31 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2007, 02:36 PM:

#10: Serge, I would like an English translation.

Thanks

#32 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2007, 05:30 PM:

Elsewhere, an Amsterdam ensemble plays quite a bit of other music from Les Indes Galantes: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. Warning: they’re adherents of the duck-call school of Baroque instrumentation.

This isn't the "duck-call school of Baroque instrumentation," unless the guy in the middle is playing an authentic Baroque electric guitar. And the gal standing on the far left appears to be playing an actual duck call, but it's really a flabiol, a small one-handed flute. I didn't get far enough into the videos to see if they used the historically-informed reproduction Baroque marimba, but unless its there for another ensemble, I can't imagine why they wouldn't.

The band, Cobla La Principal d'Amsterdam is the only cobla (Catalan street band) outside of Catalonia. Besides traditional Catalan cobla music, they play modern compositions for cobla and arrangements of medieval and renaissance music and Gershwin. Sounds like fun.


#33 ::: tobe ::: (view all by) ::: June 25, 2007, 01:27 PM:

Wow. I thought opera wasn't for me, but this is brilliant.

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