It has been the fate of many an opera to be presented to the viewer in some form of sterility, lacking any animation or will, a subject for the edgy avant-garde to dissect and reconstruct. Far too often, a director will play the part of Doctor Frankenstein and try to breathe new life into that which was deceased, but instead create a mockery of the original. Such was the fate of The Metropolitan Opera’s “Faust” last year. However, there are the rare performances that return masterpieces from the dead in the form of angels rather than monsters. Le Poème Harmonique, which specializes in early music, creates such a miracle with its performance of “Venezia: From the Streets to the Palaces” this week at Miller Theatre.
Replicating the interior of a 17th-century theatre, the production scorns technological advances of all kinds. Lit only by candles and played on period instruments, including a lirone, a colascione, and a theorbo, the 10 performers—four singers and six musicians—simulate the passion and revelry of Carnival in the streets of Venice, the city that gave life to the opera of the people. Through a carefully selected program of early Baroque masters, which include Claudio Monteverdi and Francesco Manelli, the founder and artistic director of Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre turns a collection of songs into a living narrative about a chaotic night in a spectacular city. Juxtaposing songs and madrigals about the joys and troubles of new love, the sorrows of romance and companionship scorned, and the simple pleasure of festive merrymakers, Dumestre builds canals of melody and piazzas of poetry upon the stage of Miller Theatre.
Although there were no sub- or super-titles to translate the Italian, none were needed on Wednesday night. The singers elevated themselves above static performance, becoming actors and interpreters of their own words. They walked about the stage, with the exaggerated gestures and expressions of Baroque theater, allowing the joy or sorrow of their lines to be expressed fully in their actions. While two of the singers, the soprano Claire Lefilliâtre and the tenor Jan van Elsacker, performed solo pieces, the most evocative melodies were those sung by the whole company, especially those which included the energetic and humorous Serge Goubioud. The musicians were also given their opportunity to shine in a beautiful sonata, composed by Dario Castello, which brought out the engaging and appealing talents of violinist Johannes Frisch. As they held their instruments in hand for the final bow, Le Poème Harmonique reaped the reward of a brilliant recreation of a bygone age—thunderous applause from an appreciative audience.
“Venezia: From the Streets to the Palaces” will have its final performance on Friday, Sept. 14 at 8 p.m.