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‘Actéon’ at Opera Lafayette by Flora Scott

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I attended Opera Lafayette’s Actéon at The Kennedy Center and the production opened with lovely excerpts from Les Fetes de L’Hymen et de L’Amour; ou Les Dieux d’Egypte (1747) in the first half of the show and warmed the audience’s senses for the miniature French lyric tragedy, Actéon (1684), whose entire story unfolds in forty minutes within the second act. In 1684, Marc-Antione Charpentier wrote the tragedie en musique based on the greek myth, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in six succinct scenes in which Actéon, the great hunter, fatefully stumbles upon  Diana, the goddess of the hunt, and decides to try and spy on her bathing with her attendants. Diana, of course, discovers him and turns him into a deer who is killed by his own dogs.ActeonPoster

The stage was simply set with a large, black circular design on the floor and six white chairs. Mark Randall’s visual design was clean, fresh, and multifaceted. Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills worked magically with Director Sean Curran’s snappy choreography and capitalized on the space and the sparkling aptitude of the performers. The orchestra, conducted by Ryan Brown, furnished the woodland with everything from bees bouncing from flower to flower, to ants marching to horses galloping. The stage was buzzing with vitality though it was nearly empty.

Dancers Elizabeth Coker and Benny Olk were glorious and potent to watch as they embodied and gave rise to aspects of the story that weren’t sung about on the stage. I was particularly moved by Actéon’s death scene when Olk’s body transformed from an stag into a ghost. It was a magnificent and haunting dance.

Aaron Sheehan (Acteon) and Yulia Van Doren (Diana) sang with boundless talent. Sheehan’s aria “Agréable vallon, paisible solitude” was outstanding. They were both as spellbinding to behold whether your eyes were open or closed. Sopranos Kelly Ballou and Laetitia de Beck Spitzer were compelling supplements  to the cast, but it was mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko casting the spell while striding across a revolving pathway of chairs that epitomized just how supreme the production was. Baritone David Newman was thunderous and tenor Francois-Olivier Jean’s voice bubbled as melodically as a brook.

Dancers Elizabeth Coker and Benny Olk. Photo courtesy of Opera Lafayette.

Dancers Elizabeth Coker and Benny Olk. Photo courtesy of Opera Lafayette.

I’m not an opera enthusiast, but this performance was so sweet and straightforward, so beautiful and entertaining – I recommend any Opera Lafayette production in earnest to everyone!

Running Time: 90 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Opera Lafayette’s Actéon was performed on May 1 and 2, 2013 at The Kennedy Center – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For future Opera Lafayette performance, check their 2013-2014 schedule, and check The Kennedy Center’s calendar for future events.

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