Les Femmes Vengées by Francois André-Danican Philidor with libretto by Michel-Jean Sedaine, 1775

One Washington, DC performance, 17 January, 2014, Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center
(about 90 minutes with no intermission)

The next performance will be at the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York City, 23 January, 2014, followed by two performances on 1 and 2, February, 2014, at Versailles.

Conductor: Ryan Brown
Director: Nick Olcott
Set Designer: Misha Kachman
Costumes: Kendra Rai
Lighting: Colin K. Bills

(from the program) Opera Lafayette is an American period-instrument ensemble that specializes in French repertoire, rediscovers masterpieces, and creates a recorded legacy of its work (see: operalafayette.org). Founded in 1995 in Washington, DC, by Conductor and Artistic Director Ryan Brown, Opera Lafayette has earned critical acclaim and a loyal following for its performances and recordings with international singers renowned for their interpretation of baroque and classical operas.

I admit to being shocked that I had never heard of this small local company until stumbling upon its recording of Lully's Armide a couple of months ago (and, by the way, probably still would be ignorant of the company had I not been inspired by my friends here on Opera Lively to go on a CD buying binge...). I had somehow managed to overlook or ignore any reviews in The Washington Post for the last 20 years - probably turning up my nose at the very thought of French baroque opera. Whatever was I thinking?

Cast:

Fleudelise/Madame la Presidente: Pascal Beaudin
Dorabelle/Madame Lek: Blandine Staskiewicz
Guillaume/Monsieur Lek: Alex Dobson
Fernand/Monsieur le President: Antonio Figueroa
Delphine/Madame Riss: Claire Debono
Peintre/Monsieur Riss: Jeffrey Thompson

The premise for the performance is conceiving Mozart and Da Ponte's Cosi fan tutte and Philidor and Sedaine's La Femmes Vengées together, with La Femmes Vengées providing a precedent for Cosi, calling for similar vocal soloists and a 'tantalizing mirror image plot'. The plot of Femmes, if placed after Cosi, could function as a humorous third act, taking place after the couples have been married for several years.

Opera Lafayette presented their production of Cosi fan tutte in October, 2013, in French, in the Terrace Theater, using the same sets as in last night's performance. The program synopsis begins with the full synopsis of Cosi fan tutte and ends with the synopsis for La Femmes Vengées.

Performance

The plot, essentially, is Delphine/Madame Riss, wife of a famous painter, socializes with her former mistresses, now married to Guillaume and Fernand. Fleurdelise's husband, Fernand, has risen to prominence in local government, and is pridefully known as Monsieur le President - and she as Madame la Presidente. Dorabelle finds her sister's pretensions ridiculous; her husband (Guillaume) is Lieutenant to Monsieur le President, but they continue to use their names, Monsieur and Madame Lek, rather than their titles. Madame Riss fumes at the perfidy of men and vows to have some fun at their expense. She invites the two sisters and tells them that their husbands have been making indecent proposals to her. They are horrified, and Madame Riss proposes a trick. The two husbands are invited to dinner (her husband is supposed to be out of town), they flirt with her shamelessly - the painter husband, in on the plot, returns 'unexpectedly', so the two men are hidden. The two sisters are then brought in for the dinner, for the painter to flirt with them - and the hidden husbands overhear their own wives' flirtations: the tables are turned! You get the idea...

The opera was presented in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, a very small theater (seating 513), typically used for recitals. It was something of a revelation to hear opera in such an intimate venue. The voices were ideal - no straining at all, as the auditorium was so small - but probably not much larger than the setting when the opera would have had its first staging. What I found interesting, because the voices were so accurate, was finding myself trying to figure out whether the opera was composed primarily for the middle range, whether the voices were really that good, or whether the small venue prevented any unfortunate singing. It was likely some combination of the three, but the result was really very elegant.

The singing, along with singers' acting was first rate, and their comedic timing perfected and played to the hilt, but without slapstick or anything unseemly. The effect was entirely charming and delightful - and must have provided Louis XVI with a most pleasant evening. As I left the theater last night I overheard a couple of people chatting in the elevator and agreeing that it had been a long time since they left a performance smiling - as I still am.

Opera Lafayette's performances are all recorded. Their next production, scheduled for 30 April, 2014 at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, will be Rameau's opéra-ballet héroïque Les fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour, ou Les Dieux d'Egypte (1747), where the company will collaborate with three different choreographers and dance companies to present the opera's prologue and three distinct entrées, illustrating the plot's emphasis on uniting warring peoples through love and marriage.