Updated: May 3, 2021
Jean-Philippe Rameau was the best known composer in France during the 18thc. He composed the music for 20+ operas, and chamber music for the Royal Court and aristocracy. His first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, was fiercely attacked for what was considered by some to be its revolutionary use of harmony, and by others for not being in the popular Italian style. His last opera, Les Boreades, was performed in 1762, and by the end of the century music by Haydn and Mozart had become more fashionable and Rameau's music was forgotten until his operas were revived during the latter part of the 20thc.
One of his best known operas: 'Les Indes Galantes' takes the form of a prologue, and four acts each having a distinct and separate plot, but unified by the theme of love in exotic places: The Ottoman Empire/Turkey, Peru, Persia, and North America. The most famous piece from the work, Danse des Sauvage, is set in a forest in North America, on the borders of the French and Spanish colonies, and supposedly celebrates the ceremony of the Peace Pipe. The first performance was given in Paris in 1735; ten years earlier French settlers, in what became Illinois, 'sent' six Native American Chiefs to Paris where they met Louis XV, danced for the court, and pledged allegiance to the king. The opera is full of cultural stereotypes, and until recently staged performances were more caricature than sensitive depiction of the culture.
The first link is a performance that maintains the Native American theme, the second is a modern urban city depiction, and the third an instrumental version played by the Holmes Junior High School Baroque Ensemble in Davis, CA. with your esteemed ALTO director, Kai Keltner, playing viola.
The 18thc. Opera House The opera house in Paris where the operas of Rameau were performed no longer exists, and the Opera Royale at Versailles had yet to be built. The Royal Opera House, Drottningholm, Stockholm is one of the few European theatres/opera houses that have survived from the 18thc. - complete with original stage machinery, stage sets, and lighting. It was built in the French style of Louis XV in 1762 - a year before Les Boreades - at the tail-end of the baroque period. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdRUdoKfPvo Candlelight was the only available lighting technology during the 18thc. Producers attempted to flood their stages with as much light as possible via the introduction of footlights and extra sidelights, and chandeliers above to show off sets and costumes to best advantage. Even more importantly, candles were taken out of auditoriums, leaving the audience area much darker and increasing the contrast with what was visible on stage. Creating an 18th-century Mechanical Theater https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbhLBP78CTA
Next Week –
18th Century Music in France – Pt. 2