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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gardens Fit for a Sun King: William Christie's Jardins de Thiré

by Jean Frisbie

If William Christie equals the rediscovery of French Baroque opera, then Christie's Jardins de Thiré in Vendée should equal a garden where Louis XIV would feel at home. Although Christie is best known for 17th and 18th century French music, the gardens that have encircled his home since 1986 in western France, Le Bâtiment, are another of his passions. It’s no coincidence that his early music ensemble is called Les Arts Florissants (even though the name derives from a pastoral chamber opera by Charpentier).

The Cour d'Honneur
Like many in the Baroque style, the gardens in Thiré combine seemingly incongruous outdoor spaces into a complex and playful whole. You see the simple formality of a French Renaissance garden that fronts the house in the Cour d'Honneur, but, wait a minute—through the pergola, there's a wacky, wavy hedge pruned by Lewis Carroll in consultation with Salvador Dali and Walt Disney! It's a surreal spot where Christie hosts summer concerts, le théâtre de verdure.

Le théatre de verdure

Wandering further away from the house, Christie tips his shovel to Gertrude Jekyll (English cottage gardens), André Le Nôtre (French Baroque on the grandest scale), Capability Brown (dammed up rivers and sculpted land), and maybe Jens Jensen (Midwestern prairies). Christie loves his historical landscape references, and although they pile up quickly, we love them too. Christie catches all the riffs that make a musically successful garden—rhythm, repetition, strong axes, texture, a controlled plant palette, voids, pattern, and secrets. The Jardins de Thiré have a purity that's outside the contemporary world, and they're over-the-top fun. Look—there's the Sun King himself by the dovecote!

In another nod to the plants, Le Jardin des Voix—Christie's group of up-and-coming opera singers—performs Le Jardin de Monsieur Rameau at BAM on April 19, featuring a salon-style selection of Rameau's tunes and other sung delights.

Jean Frisbie lurks around gardens large, small, and virtual to balance her bureaucratic life.

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