On the grounds of Drottningholm, the palace where the royal family of Sweden lives, there stands a little baroque theater, built by a Swedish queen with the unfortunate name of Lovisa Ulrika. Through chance, the fickleness of fashion and political change, and through the benefit of nearly 150 years of complete neglect, the theater survived intact with some 15 complete sets of original scenery, including all kinds of pillars and trees, clouds and machines for making thunder noises or delivering gods from the skies.
It is a charming place, and even more charming to see the dress rehearsal of an opera there, the theater so intimate you feel you can reach out and grab the hands of the singers when they implore, or help them up from the ground when they fall down in a poisoned faint, or protect them from an evil sorcerer in black inciting human sacrifices in an elegant and rich bass voice.
The orchestra is tiny but muscular, just like the director, who sways and bounces his way through the score, batonless, clapping the beat in frustration at the chorus who do not keep time crisply enough for his taste as the third act (or was it the fourth act?) finishes and they are playing the part of writhing demons pressed downstage to the very edge of the proscenium, threatening the audience with all kind of evil and mayhem and making the hairs raise on one's arms. Even the dance, which I usually detest, is enigmatic and Mark-Morris-but-in-high-heels-ishy quirky, all heiroglyphic gestures and oddly graceful.
And despite having only the faintest grasp of the plot and no grasp of the language (except for the constant repetition of the word "amour" and the odd word, such as "peutetre" here and there) and being unable to read in the dimly authentic lighting, I was enchanted by Rameau's Zoroastre.
The Swedish word for the day genrep, which is short for generalrepetition. It means dress rehearsal.
- by Francis S.