Like the decision to combine trampoline performance art with Debussy’s Claire de lune (seen here), there are times when the combination of two or more dissimilar artistic elements can lead to something truly astonishing and transporting.
Another case in point: this incredible production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 1735 opera Les Indes galantes. Rameau’s work is technically an opéra-ballet, which unites both sung and danced elements to create a dramatic whole. In this particular staging, from the Paris Opera in fall 2019, Baroque music and period instruments live in harmony with… krumping? Yup. For their updated reimagining, film director Clément Cogitore and choreographer Bintou Dembélé chose to use modern dance styles throughout the opera instead of historically-accurate ballet.
The original opera is, quite frankly, a bit of a Eurocentric (i.e., racist) mess from a modern standpoint. The plot follows various love stories set in “exotic” locations (the Ottoman Empire, Peru, Persia, North America) and ends with a peaceful coming-together of Europeans and Native Americans courtesy of a “savage” dance. Yikes and double yikes. However, this modern staging somehow appears to transcend all of that, more bluntly addressing issues of prejudice, otherness, and what it truly means to be a global community.
At the very least, though, it’s a mesmerizing production to watch. Check out the video below and see for yourself…
J.S. Bach never wrote any operas, but his secular Cantata—Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211—is probably the closest we’ll get to hearing what a Bach opera could have been like. Commonly known as the “Coffee Cantata,” this mini drama for small orchestra and three singers was likely first presented in 1735, at the Café Zimmermann in Leipzig. Coffee drinking was the new craze sweeping Europe, but for some, the drink was still controversial, as its side effects were not fully known yet. (If only they could fast-forward to the twenty-first century!)
Bach’s Coffee Cantata is charming, humorous, and, yes, a tad ridiculous. The plot follows a young woman (Lieschen) who is chastised by her father (Schlendrian) for her coffee-drinking habit. Schlendrian threatens to take away Lieschen’s possessions and privileges in an attempt to win her obedience but to no avail. Finally, when the father vows to prevent his daughter from marrying, Lieschen agrees to give up coffee. But, Lieschen has one final trick up her sleeve: she tells potential husbands that their marriage contract has to allow her to drink coffee whenever she desires.
The moral of the story comes in the final chorus:
Cats do not give up mousing, girls remain coffee-sisters. The mother adores her coffee-habit, and grandma also drank it, so who can blame the daughters!
Recently, the Netherlands Bach Society—who is in the midst of a multi-year project to create high-quality video recordings of Bach’s works—mounted a staged version of the Coffee Cantata. The results, seen below, are delightful and only amplify the charms and humor of what is perhaps Bach’s quirkiest work.
Since this is a classical music blog, I would be remiss not to highlight today’s Google Doodle, which celebrates the 334th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach. In this interactive experience, you begin by creating a short, two-bar melody. Then, AI software—which has “analyzed” hundreds of Bach’s chorales—will generate an original, Bach-style harmonization around your tune. The results are a bit hit or miss, but some sound surprisingly good. Overall, it’s a fun little diversion that shows the far-reaching effects of Bach’s music as well as the possibilities (and limitations) of AI technology.
Check out the short video below to learn more about the creation of the Doodle, and try your hand at the experience here. (Also be on the lookout for some fun Easter eggs in the Doodle. Hint: one involves 80s-style rock…)