The thing about going to performances of obscure French operas is that you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. On Wednesday at Lisner Auditorium, Opera Lafayette, America’s leading purveyor of French baroque opera (a title for which there is, admittedly, not a lot of competition), performed “Les Indes Galantes,” the ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau. The last time Opera Lafayette offered a big Rameau title (“Les Fêtes”), it involved three different dance companies as a gala celebration of its 20th anniversary in 2014. This time, the ballet was offered in excerpts with no dancers at all, and even with the addition of the last-act opera, “Les Sauvages,” that Rameau appended after the work’s 1735 premiere, the performance took little more than an hour.
The result was a pleasant supper rather than a sumptuous Baroque repast, though the ambitious little company certainly didn’t stint on the voices. “Les Indes Galantes” is a rather subversive set of vignettes of indigenous populations around the world, concluding with the opera’s two titular “savages,” who are rather horrified by the coarse manners of the European conquerors who want to seduce one of them, the maiden Zima, and find their love for each other strengthened and confirmed by the encounter. Three of the young singers were making company debuts. Andre Courville, as Dom Alvar, was announced as having had laryngitis, but his warm rich bass-baritone showed few traces of it. Sherezade Panthaki, as Zima, was strong and clear in the upper register, though hard to hear in the lower part of her voice. Victor Sicard showed an able baritone as the second “savage,” Adario. They were joined by Robert Getchell, whose light tenor, slightly nasal but pleasingly flexible, has been featured in several other Opera Lafayette performances.
Ryan Brown, the company’s founder and artistic director, led the lively dance segments from the violin, including one chorus to the sun sung by Gallery Voices, the National Gallery’s resident chamber choir. The ballet was performed with no visual accompaniment, but the opera was semi-staged, with some gratuitously garish costumes by Patricia Forelle and some rather basic stage blocking by Dietlinde Turban Maazel, head of the Castleton Festival (currently on hiatus) and a former star actress in Germany. She did what she could to bring life to this slender piece, which for all its charms made for a slightly incomplete evening.