At the Kennedy Center, Opera Lafayette performs Charpentier’s ‘Acteon’


(L to R): Sarah Mesko, Aaron Sheehan, David Newman and Francois-Olivier Jean rehearsing for Opera Lafayette's production of Charpentier's "Acteon." (Louis Forget/Louis Forget)
May 3, 2013

The vengeful gods of ancient Greece devised devilishly clever punishments. The hunter Actaeon found that out when he glimpsed Artemis bathing in a pool. The goddess, her chastity offended, transformed Actaeon into a stag, to be hunted down and killed by his own pack of dogs.

The legend was the subject of “Acteon,” a hunting party pastoral composed in 1684 by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, given a rare revival by Opera Lafayette on Thursday night at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.

The performance was lifted by the dulcet high tenor of Aaron Sheehan, who made a fine recording of the work at the Boston Early Music Festival in 2009. He had a mellifluous legato for the aria “Agreable vallon, paisible solitude” and dramatic intensity for the plaintive recitative.

A pair of dancers, Elizabeth Coker and Benny Olk, animated Charpentier’s dance music, in choreography by director Sean Curran, somewhere between the French baroque and Mark Morris.

Soprano Yulia Van Doren was an airy Diane, her voice maybe too self-effacing in its lightness, while mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko had a commanding richness of tone as the spiteful Junon.

The five singers who formed the chorus of hunters or Diane’s nymphs were at their best in the tragic chorus that ends the work. They were less convincing in solo roles in some excerpts from Rameau’s “Les Fetes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour,” offered as a preview of Opera Lafayette’s planned performance of this grand opera-ballet in the 2014-15 season.

While the Rameau, performed from the skeletal short score, sounded here like a half-formed time-filler, the small ensemble of instrumentalists, under conductor Ryan Brown, gave a suave and moving reading of the Charpentier.

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Downey is a freelance writer.

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