John Abberger (oboe)
For musicians who, like us, do not live in Europe but spend most of our time performing European music, the experience of performing this music in historical venues cannot be adequately described. It is of great moment for Opera Atelier and for Tafelmusik to perform Lully's Armide here in Versailles, and the feeling of awe and excitement is palpable throughout the entire company.
Grand Trianon, Versailles
To be sure, there are details to consider: the palace opera house was not built until 1770, nearly 100 years after the premiere of Armide in Paris in 1686. On the other hand, the first work performed in the new opera house in 1770 was Lully's Persée (1682), and Lully's music dramas were almost certainly performed during his lifetime in one of the many temporary theaters that were built on the grounds at Versailles. The opera house is constructed entirely of wood painted to look like marble. This combines a beautiful and monumental visual effect with exceptionally warm acoustics. The royal box on the second level contains a small suite of rooms, the largest of which contains a large opening into the hall. On the level above a tier of boxes contain large mirrors in the rear wall, each with a half-chandelier set into the mirror itself. The mirror reflects the chandelier and the inner walls of the box to create the illusion of an entire room behind the box (complete with a full chandelier hanging from the "ceiling"). The effect of an entire tier of this clever deception creates an amazing sense of depth in what is otherwise a rather intimate theatre.
Hall seen from the pit
I have the vague impression that our enthusiasm with the whole project is proving to be something of a mitigating factor for jet lag. Still, there is the usual struggle to deal with such a jolt to one's quotidian rhythm and continue to perform at your best. As always, we help each other along in any way we can, and we receive excellent support from the staff, both from Natasha Bean-Smith on the Opera Atelier side and our own Steve McKay on the Tafelmusik side. Then there is the usual challenge of conforming to the opening hours of restaurants in France. For many of us, having the opportunity to dine here is a major bonus on a trip like this. How frustrating then, that the evening dinner service in most of the nicer restaurants begins around 7 pm and concludes at around 10 pm, precisely the hours that we are hard at work in the theatre.
But any complaints are dwarfed by the reality of what we are here to accomplish. I am almost overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude that we are able to experience the wonder of performing in such a grand historical setting.