Rameau’s Les Indes galantes was chosen to open this year’s programme of the Müpa’s Early Music Festival and, thanks to the masterful leadership of György Vashegyi and the oustanding performances from orchestra, chorus and an excellent cast alike, it did so to thunderous applause.

Rameau’s opéra-ballet consists of a prelude and four entrées, telling four short, separate love stories set in the Indies (which, in this case, means not only the New World, but also the Ottoman Empire and Persia). The version presented by Vashegyi in this performance, however, was Rameau's 1761 revision, which, in addition to altering the orders of the entrées, omits the third entrée (Les fleurs), and cuts a scene from the second (Le Turc généreux), shortening the piece considerably. Though concert performances strip the opera from the stage spectacle, a central element in Baroque theatre, the commitment of its performers ensured that this outing of Les Indes galantes never felt static or wanting.

Véronique Gens, György Vashegyi and Thomas Dolié
© Attila Nagy | Müpa Budapest

Vashegyi’s conducting was on the quick side (at times, a bit too quick), but he led an exuberant reading of the score, conducting with enthusiasm and precision and keeping a careful balance between soloists and orchestral forces. The Orfeo Orchestra played with brisk tone and tremendous energy, their performance colourful and taut: the storm scene of Le Turc généreux and the volcano eruption of Les incas du Pérou, depicted so expressively by Rameau’s score, were especially vividly rendered. The quality of their playing was so uniformly good and the sense of ensemble so solid that it’d be hard to single out any one section to praise. The Purcell Choir delivered an equally excellent performance, delightful in the more pastoral scenes of the prologue and powerful in the more dramatic sections of the entrées.

Members of the Orfeo Orchestra
© Attila Nagy | Müpa Budapest

All three sopranos gave enchanting performances. Chantal Santon-Jeffery’s dark, round soprano was a delight to hear, her singing vividly characterized in the roles of Hébé and Zima, particularly memorable in the former. Katherine Watson’s youthful, lush voice was ideally suited to the part of Émilie, while Véronique Gens brought pathos to the role of Phani, singing with a crystalline tone and great expressiveness.

Jean-Sébastien Bou, Chantal Santon-Jeffery and György Vashegyi
© Attila Nagy | Müpa Budapest

The male soloists gave similarly fine performances. Reinoud Van Mechelen’s singing in the haute-contre roles of Valère, Carlos and Damon was commendable, Valère being the most memorable performance of the three: his singing in “Sur ces bords une âme enflammée” was sensitive and captivating. Thomas Dolié, though at times somewhat underpowered, was impressive throughout, showing off an attractive, resonant baritone, fittingly imposing as Bellone and Huascar, and especially wonderful in the third entrée, playing Don Alvar, the Spanish suitor vying for Zima’s affections with a great sense of comedy. Jean-Sébastien Bou’s full baritone made for a commanding Osman (it’s a shame that his most dramatic scene was cut) and a solid Adario, blending well with Santon-Jeffery in their duet "Forêts paisibles". All in all, this was a remarkable performance and, in a long string of noteworthy performances of Rameau's works, an outstanding achievement for György Vashegyi and his orchestra.