The theme of this year’s Brighton Early Music Festival is ‘roots.’ Art never exists in isolation, and the festival explores the tangled web of links that modern music has with ancient instruments, the way that classic pieces resonate with contemporary times, and the myriad influences of the globe on national sounds. The festival aims to bring fresh eyes to familiar work. Forms from the sonata to the string quartet, oratorio and opera, are all on offer. None of these classic forms sprang from nowhere, but are part of a rich tapestry of musical history that grew organically.
Like Pygmalion. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera is taken by Ensemble Molière and director Karolina Sofulak to the streets of 21st century Paris. We begin with a familiar scene, a man slumped over his laptop and fuelled by coffee, lamenting his life. Technology is used to excellent effect, as the cast of young singers performs alongside a newly commissioned animated film by Kate Anderson. It’s bright and vibrant, with text replacing surtitles summarising the action: ‘love’s a pain’ and ‘Crikey, my life’ being just a couple of succinct examples.
Josh Cooter is an impressive tenor in the role of Pygmalion, and the voices sopranos Roberta Diamond as Céphise and Angela Hicks as La Statue hold the audience well as Rosalie Wahlfrid dances the role of L’Amour. They are accompanied by Satoko Doi-Luck on harpsichord, flutist Flavia Hirte, Oonagh Lee on the oboe, violins from Alice Earll and Ellen Bundy violins, Jakab Kaufmann on bassoon and Kate Conway playing the viola da gamba.
It reminds me a little of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, with the delightful sketches and evocative music, and even more so as we go on travels around Paris, Venice and London. It won’t be a spoiler to say that love triumphs, and conquers all, including the audience.