Alice Tully Hall
Readers of the Berkshire Review have read my grumblings about the standardized repertoire of the Boston Symphony concerts in the Music Shed at Tanglewood. With some miraculous exceptions, like Stéphane Denève's Poulenc Stabat Mater this past summer, most of the programming comes from a narrow group of works which are the most securely seated in the canon. Hearing them year after year, the critic—or at least this critic—comes think of them as not the backbone of the repertory as much as its flab, its excess belly fat, as those unpleasant little ads say. (We shouldn't forget that the predominance of this conservative programming—the concert hall as museum—is a post-war phenomenon.)
After the Boston Early Music Festival's magnificent production of Handel's first opera Almira, certainly a youthful work, from before he left for Italy, but such a great one, it is fascinating to hear another of his early dramatic works from a little later. He wrote Aci, Galatea e Polifemo as a cantata or serenata for a neapolitan royal wedding in 1708 (a year after his first cantata Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno and in the same year as his first oratorio La Resurrezione), and it feels to me very far to the opera end of the spectrum.
Tully Scope has so far included a vast range of different kinds of music considered of especially vital interest today. On Saturday evening William Christie, the ebullient adoptive Frenchman from Buffalo and Les Arts Florissants introduced historically-informed performance to the mix, as well as another element that has been missing so far: light entertainment. It was about time for some music that was primarily designed to amuse...but to entertain intelligently, of course, because, as light and amusing as Rameau's balletic-operatic entertainments were, the wit of his librettists' manipulation of classical literature and myth was subtle and enlightening.