Rameau’s Pigmalion is an acte de ballet: a short opéra-ballet in a single act, a very popular 18th century art form. The libretto is based on the myth of Pygmalion from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: the sculptor falls in love with his creation, a beautiful ivory statue of a girl. The goddess Aphrodite changes the statue into a living woman, who returns Pygmalion’s love. The acte de ballet appropriately ends with songs and dances celebrating the triumph of Love.

<i>Pigmalion</i> © Bengt Wanselius
Pigmalion
© Bengt Wanselius

The performance at the Drottningholm Court Theatre was enriched by a prologue of music by other French Baroque composers: Rebel, Marais, Forqueray, and Lully. During the prologue, Saburo Teshigawara danced on stage, together with his collaborator Rihoko Sato, in a choreography typical of his “aerial” style. Teshigawara’s dancers have something bird-like about them: alert and elegant, the movements seem to spring from within, coming in gusts, riding invisible currents. His interpretation of the Baroque music was almost pictorial, like images illustrating the score. The dancers’ performance was based on a deep respect for the music, even when it became ironic in the flutters in tempo with the trills of the woodwinds. The total silence of their dance, their feet seeming to hover on the wooden stage, enhanced the enjoyment of the music and added a spiritual, ethereal element to the performance.

Hanna Husáhr (Céphise) © Bengt Wanselius
Hanna Husáhr (Céphise)
© Bengt Wanselius

After an intermission in the beautiful park at Drottningholm Palace, bathed in the sunset light (here in Stockholm, we have our own Glyndebourne-like experiences) Pigmalion was presented. The staging (also by Teshigawara, as well as direction, costumes and lights) took advantage of the original sets of the 18th-century theatre: it presented a simple room, framed by columns that created perspective. The god Cupid and the statue of Galatea entered and exited the scene through a trap door. Thin, flesh-coloured fabric was wrapped loosely around the singers and dancers’ bodies: Teshigawara wanted to present the human body itself as a most beautiful costume.

Saburo Teshigawara © Bengt Wanselius
Saburo Teshigawara
© Bengt Wanselius

The Drottningholm Theatre Orchestra was led by Italian conductor Vittorio Ghielmi, who was also performing as a soloist at the viola da gamba in some of the pieces performed in the prologue. The reading of the score was more energetic than elegant, exuding enthusiasm and honest participation in the music. Ghielmi’s solo viol pieces were among the musical highlights of the evening.

Anders Dahlin sang in the main character role. His bright tenor, very easy on the high register, is perfect for the haute-contre part of Pygmalion. Dahlin is a specialist of French Baroque, and he showed his skills with elegance and style. He dazzled the audience with agile, confident coloratura in his last arietta “Règne, Amour”, showing remarkable projection and stage presence.

The other singers, Kerstin Avemo (L’Amour), Hanna Husáhr (Céphise, Pygmalion’s fiancée), and Silvia Moi (the animated statue, Galatea), have much smaller parts. Avemo made an impression with her bright, sparkling soprano; her high notes were shiny and extremely easy. Moi’s voice was supple and velvety, although it seemed somewhat big for the part; Husáhr was moving in her representation of the neglected girlfriend, her middle register round and deep. Neither Moi nor Husár seemed completely at ease in the Baroque style, but their performances were nevertheless enjoyable.

Kerstin Avemo (L'Amour) and dancers © Bengt Wanselius
Kerstin Avemo (L'Amour) and dancers
© Bengt Wanselius

Dancing was prominent throughout the performance; two dancers acted as “doubles” of the two lovers, perhaps not the most original idea, but one that fit well with the opéra-ballet concept. The singers tended to be static, or mimicked the gestures of the dancers themselves.

The result was a sensual, vibrating performance, where Teshigawara’s interpretation revealed a side of Baroque music not often displayed or recognized.

***11