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Thursday, March 31, 2016

In Context: Les Fêtes Vénitiennes

Legendary conductor William Christie and his acclaimed early-music ensemble Les Arts Florissants explore the hedonistic side of the French Baroque with Les Fêtes Vénitiennes, a rarely staged opéra-ballet by André Campra. Context is everything, so get even closer to the show with this curated selection of related articles, interviews, and videos. After you've attended the show, let us know what you thought below and by posting on social media using #LesFêtesVénitiennes.

Program Notes

Coming soon!


"Campra's Festive Prologues & Entrées" (BAM blog)
When French Baroque opera needed a new direction in the wake of Louis XIV’s death, André Campra looked to the theater, and to Italy, for hedonistic inspiration.

BAM Blog Questionnaire: Petra Reinhardt of Les Fêtes Vénitiennes (BAM blog)
Costume designer Petra Reinhardt dishes on her research process, designing for performers and the practicality of Venetian footwear.

“A Life in Music: William Christie” (The Guardian)
Christie has come a long way since his days of throwing together Bach performances in college.

An Opera House for a Baroque Savant (BAM blog)
When conductor William Christie first came to BAM, he saw “a great white elephant, surrounded by little more than parking lots.” Once inside? “It was heaven.”

Watch & Listen

“William Christie’s Musical Gardens” (YouTube)
The result of 30 years of daydreaming, Christie’s majestic garden is a pastiche of French and Italian styles.

Les Arts Florissants (Spotify)
Stream the early music group’s catalogue.

Ballet Scapino Rotterdam’s Instagram Feed (Instagram)
The wide-ranging company also maintains an active visual life.

Now your turn...

What did you think? What were your favorite moments from the staging and score? Will you forever associate Venice with the French baroque? Tell us what's on your mind in the comments below and on social media using #LesFêtesVénitiennes.


  1. Gorgeous sets and costumes, but the music is relatively bland and mediocre and the operatic story aspect aspects relatively static. This makes for a slow and long evening with only the final, gorgeous choral moment truly a thrill musically, despite excellent musicianship throughout, as one expects of Les Arts Florissants. For reference I was delirious about "Atys" and very much enjoyed "Medee." Those benefited from qualitatively better music, to my taste.

  2. Much of the evening was brilliantly executed, certainly superbly played, sung and visually opulent. The work presents problems for the audience in the second half, with the “opera’’ proper. It was here I thought Carsen did not come up with the admittedly difficult coup de theatre that would have made things involving. The return of the initial revelers as audience perhaps could have vivified this long section as well as functioned as an intermediary between the real audience and Campra’s conceit. Still, Les Arts Florissants rate a big bravo..

  3. It's a challenge to present this kind of work in venue as large as this, so I personally lost the connection to the grandness of the music - even though executed beautifully.
    The biggest issue I had was the dancing - if contemporary ballet is incorporated into this context, it needs to be done well. It seemed under-rehearsed and repetitive & conventional choreographic choices did not serve the ensemble.
    That said - the chorus was incredible, costumes and light design beautiful and the orchestra a joy.

    1. I wouldn't have called the "ballet" under-rehearsed but too repetitive and a stylistic mishmash. The very large cast took up much space and the sets boxed (literally) the stage in. Anyone familiar with the scant backstage space had to appreciate the work of the responsible for the costume changes.

  4. I admit it, this was the performance I was most looking forward to this Spring at BAM. I saw this opera on Thursday evening. Wow! It was thrilling. It was funny. It was lush. It was over the top. It was everything I love about French Baroque opéra-ballet. William Christie and Les Arts Florissants are always exciting to experience. I was lucky to have attended their most recent BAM productions: Atys in 2011 and David et Jonathas in 2013 -- as well as Le Jardin de Monsieur Rameau the same season. (When I read the list of their past performances at BAM that I have missed, I could weep. Why didn't I discover them sooner?) But rather than cry over operas lost, let me rave about this fabulously grand feast for the senses: the gorgeous music (played on period instruments); the clever dancing; the sumptuous costumes; the effective lighting and the rich scenery. It was easy to imagine myself part of the Sun King's dazzling court, delighting in the frivolous spectacle before me. The hedonism of Carnival in Venice set the stage for these sappy, delightful vignettes. (Why be so serious all the time? Sometimes I just want cake for dinner!) I think this early form of opera might be my absolute favorite genre. But I need to see much more of Les Arts Florissants -- and Opéra Comique -- to be completely sure!

    1. Dear CurlyV, While I prefer cake for breakfast, I agree with your review whole-heartedly. Thank you for expressing your gratitude with such alacrity. All the best, Anna

  5. I thought it was an imaginative, gorgeous production. The orchestra and performers were top notch. It was the Venice of dreams, so beguiling, dangerous, romantic, sensuous, and a bit tawdry. I was transported. The costumes were marvelous. To bring such energy and vitality, to capture the essence of this decadent period, made this more than a museum piece. It was a real work of living, breathing art. Bravo!

  6. Past and present, feminine and masculine, wit and poignancy -- a lush and beautiful evening. Thank you William Christie and BAM.

    1. Melinda, I also enjoyed the referential play of roles and thank the people who made this production possible. Warmly, Anna

  7. One of the freshest and most enjoyable productions I've seen at BAM in a long time. Such a rare thrill (sadly) to see Les Arts Florrisants in action. I am counting the days until they bring back "Atys," or Monteverdi's "L'Incoronazione di Poppea," whose surreal, blue-lit stills have taunted me for years during the cinema previews... Please, more baroque opera gems like these!

  8. The singers and musicians of Les Arts Florissants, under William Christie's direction, are first-rate in their attention to period style, but the program was decidedly too long because the music and choreography were not differentiated enough to sustain interest. For me, Christie's first presentation of "Atys", way back, has remained the highlight, followed by "Les Boreades" and other early pieces. I found the concept for the intro section to Carnival as well as the costume designs for the gaming tables, roulette, and human condolas most inventive.

  9. I adore the music, the musicians and singers enormously -- so much talent, so amazing and beautiful and -- the percussion! I could listen to this for hours. But the dance remained contemporary, and despite the evocative sets and fabrics the opera ballet remained of this world, and did not carry me back to another time. Which made it wonderful but not thrilling. With so much thought behind performance practices of the baroque, on the music side, the dance should be on the same level.

  10. Perhaps the exuberance of the dancers occasionally overwhelmed the music somewhat, but it is still a privilege to have the best of the best - Les Arts Florissants and Opéra Comique - rolled into one, and brought to New York in a single, marvellous performance.

  11. Sorry to be late with this. I just had to comment.

    First, I want to tell you about the seating arrangements at BAM Howard Gilman. In the balcony, the steeply raked rows and stairs were very difficult and dangerous to climb down. I, along with others, feared falling on my head. There should be railings in the aisles so that you have something to hold onto. Not only, that, as I started to go to my Row F 17 seat, I didn't see the drop down from the stair and I crashed forward, hitting my head quite hard on the column that is in that row. I had a slight headache for awhile. This must all be fixed!

    As for the music, I found it all lovely--not boring at all (I've read the other comments). The sets were simple and ingenious. I loved the extraordinary lighting, that added a real drama of dark and bright. The colors of the costumes--red, orange and black--were quite striking. And I found the dancing very inventive. I especially admired the choice of having dancing during some of the singing; it added life to the piece, and kept it from being static.

    My one real complaint was that I felt there were lapses in taste in the movements. Now, I've seen operatic performances that were worse than this, but I question the idea that very erotically suggesting movements will make opera, which is losing its audience because it has mostly appealed to older people, more attractive to a younger audience. I don't think that's what peole long for. They long for beauty and meaning, and always will. Bad taste is a substitute for real inventiveness. I realize that this opera does highlight licentiousness--just throwing yourself away to abandon, no thought, no restraint--but it could have been shown in a way that didn't invite people to laugh uncomfortably and mockingly. People can go for that, but it takes away from the real emotion we all want to have. It went too far.

    The plot was not always easy to follow. The synopsis was not completely clear; I think that at a certain point it probably should have been explained that the man who's in love with the star of the opera at the end is the same person who has been scheduled to play Boree in the opera, but who makes a plot change and really abducts her so that Jupiter cannot save her. It was a bit confusing to me; but that scene with the beautiful red rose petals surrounding her was breathtaking.

    I've seen Atys (beautiful!) and the opera about Saul and David (not so well done, I felt), and, I think, other operas before then. I try to see every William Christie event that I can.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! Your feedback regarding the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House balcony was shared with our general management and production team.


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