|Le Banquet Céleste|
During its wonderfully variegated season, the Opéra de Rennes has invited Damien Guillon and his Banquet Céleste for an entertaining baroque evening on February 11 and 12. The opera tells the story of the shepherd Acis and the nymph Galatea, who love each other. Unfortunately, the Cyclops Polyphemus is also in love with Galatea and, in an outburst of rage and jealousy, smashes Acis with a rock and kills him. Listening to the desperate prayers of the nymph, the gods transform his blood into a stream, making him immortal. Händel’s music is as limpid and deep, irresistible and versatile as that stream, and the artists are doing it justice by bringing out every nuance just like a shining pebble on the ground. Damien Guillon conducts the Banquet Céleste with mathematical precision as well as passion and subtlety.Since it is a concert version, no pompous baroque or forced contemporary staging can come between the music and us tonight. Some discreet stage movements, a narrator—Olivier Dutilloy—who introduces every act by relating its content with a clear and natural diction, and the perfect diction of the singers; that is all it takes to follow the simple story. Soprano Katherine Crompton is touching and charming in the role of Galatea; with her crystal-clear voice, she brings out all the subtleties of the score. The grand Cyril Auvity is her Acis. He sings, in his golden timbre, with a natural and innocent ease that goes very well with his pastoral character. Edward Grint, a baritone with a strong warm voice and a clear timbre, is Polyphemus, looking innocent, a tad comical, a tad overwhelmed. Tenor Patrice Kilbride is Damon, Acis’ confidant, and mezzo-soprano Emilie Nicot is Coridon. A little miracle takes place when all these wonderful voices come together in the choir, and the plaint ‘Gentle Acis is no more’ is sublime. A charming evening, a whiff of fresh air and simplicity in these difficult times, and we leave, promising ourselves to read Ovid again, presto presto.