La Double Coquette

I was lucky enough to catch the New York Premiere of La Double Coquette at Montclair State University this past weekend. Wow. Il était merveilleux! It was part of the university’s Peak Performances series, which consistently presents an exciting season of productions each year. The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) in Montclair joined Peak Performances on opening night to present a pre-performance talk by Neal Goren, Founding Artistic Director of Gotham Chamber Opera. His talk was entitled Strange Bedfellows, and we started the conversation with a discussion of contemporary composer Gérard Pesson’s additions and revisions to the score of this 1753 opéra comique. This launched us into a discussion of whether or not it is acceptable to alter an original, historic work. Does it completely ruin the work or does it create something exciting and new? Mr. Goren played many examples of such revisions, including the ending of Turandot that Berio wrote, as well as Mozart’s reworking of Handel’s Messiah. This fascinating lecture really added to my understanding and enjoyment of La Double Coquette, which moved seamlessly back and forth from the original baroque music by Antoine Dauvergne to Pesson’s modern interludes. In fact, there were times I didn’t even register that the music had changed from one to the other, it paired so well. Even the dialogue moved brilliantly between the original text and Pierre Alferi’s amusing additions. And speaking of revisions, with a surprising plot twist, the original piece, La Coquette trompéebecame the delightfully saucy La Double Coquette, at the end of which — spoiler alert — the girl wins the girl! The Ensemble Amarillis artfully handled the “double” score, and the talented cast hilariously handled the double-crossing. The fantastical costumes by French visual artist Annette Messager were out of this world. They were incredible — almost sculptural — works of art. Kudos to the talented cast: Robert Getchell as Damon, Isabelle Poulenard as Florise, and Maïlys de Villoutreys as Clarice. Kudos also to the Peak Performance staff and FIAF for a truly special and memorable opening night. It was a thrill to be there. I especially enjoyed comparing notes with fellow audience members after the show. There were many opinions, just as our pre-show discussion touched upon: baroque purists hated the revisions made by Pesson. Hybrid new music/baroque music lovers (I include myself in this category) were thrilled by the revised score. I urge those of you who have not yet experienced Peak Performances’ offerings to give them a shot. If I had the time and the money, I would attend many more of their performances than I am currently able. The series is brilliantly curated — and the university makes it easy for New York-based audiences to get there by providing transportation that departs from Port Authory for a reasonable price. Go for it next season! You have no excuse, and there is not a bad seat in the house!

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