Catacoustic Consort. First Unitarian Church Cincinnati, OH. June 3, 2016

Soloists: Melissa Harvey, Molly Quinn, Aaron Sheehan, Jason McStoots, Aaron Cain, Andrea Wells, Joanna Blendulf, Stephen Goist, Erica Rubis, David Ellis, Daniel Swenberg, Christopher Bagan; Emma Griffin, stage director, Annalisa Pappano, artistic director

Le Reniement de St. Pierre; Concerto for four viols; La feste de Ruel

Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s one-act pastoral opera, La feste de Ruel almost premiered in 1685 in the Paris of the Sun King, but things being politically charged and less than fair in the world of French court opera back in those days, the hapless composer got his work yanked off stage in a most un-courtly fashion and sent to composer’s limbo, where it languished for over four centuries. The delightful La feste de Ruel  fêtes the outlandish, the pastoral and the amorous, all neatly wrapped up in a light-as-a-feather plot that serves as an excuse to extol the virtues of the King.

The Catacoustic artists opened with a brief sacred cantata, Le Reniement de St. Pierre (St. Peter’s Denial) in which vocal soloists Melissa Harvey, Molly Quinn, Aaron Sheehan, Jason McStoots, Aaron Cain and Andrea Wells sang with plenty of panache and Baroque stylishness. Joanna Blendulf, Stephen Goist, Erica Rubis and David Ellis brought a concerto for four viols in six movements, two of which were short preludes and the ensuing four lively dances, all four violists excelling in their sensitive, idiomatically flawless ensemble work.

Charpentier’s musical proclivities, like those of Jean Baptiste Lully, the other notable French composer of the time hovered between the profoundly religious and the elegantly naughty. Charpentier wrote extensively for the theater – operas which dealt with the deadly serious,  divertissements, and pastoral comedies depicting the woodland shenanigans of randy shepherds, all-too-willing shepherdesses, sundry forest denizens and various mythological beings, including in this instance the ubiquitous Pan, whose appearance mid-way sets up the story’s denouement.

Whimsically staged by Emma Griffin, La feste de Ruel  premiered before an attentive crowd that rewarded the artists at the end of the evening with a well-deserved round of applause. Melissa Harvey and Molly Quinn took well to the stage in both Le Reniement de St. Pierre and La feste de Ruel, comfortably executing all the embellishments needed to make this music flow and providing it with very beautiful singing. The three men in the cast held their own vocally and histrionically: tenor Jason McStoots, a sensitive Jesus and a hilariously randy satyr, tenor Aaron Sheehan a true French Haute-contre fearlessly handling the high-lying tessitura of the parts of Petrus and Tircis, and bass-baritone Aaron Cain, an imposing Pastre and Pan.

Leave it to the enterprising folks at Catacoustic Consort to find the orchestral score of this forgotten gem and turn an act of musicological research into a superb all-Charpentier concert, featuring two rarities and a world premiere.

Rafael de Acha