Review: Pleasures abound in picture-book opera Pygmalion

Ensemble Moliere
Ensemble Moliere

Following their outstanding performance of Medicine and Mortality at last year’s Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF), Ensemble Molière has returned to one of the city’s stages with another creative and highly accomplished offering.

Following a successful fundraising campaign, Ensemble Molière has developed Rameau’s 1748 opera Pygmalion, taking the classical tale of a sculptor who falls in love with his creation as its starting point and reinventing the story for the modern age.

Ensemble Moliere's performance of Pygmalion

Ensemble Moliere's performance of Pygmalion

In this Karolina Sofulak-directed performance, Pygmalion (Josh Cooter) designs a girl on his laptop, and, after falling in love with her, begs L’Amour, played by dancer Rosalie Wahlfrid, to bring her to life.

Beneath outsized black sunglasses and bleach blonde hair pulled into a half top-knot, L’Amour is a fashion house Lady Gaga, complete with slogan t-shirt blaring ‘LOVE’.

If France’s modern Venus is transformed into a puckish fashion diva, then the Statue (Angela Hicks) is Pygmalion’s Barbie, in floral fifties frock and baby blonde hair worn loose.

A treat for the senses, visual and musical pleasures truly abound in what the event organisers refer to as a 21st century Paris-based ‘picture-book opera’.

Pygmalion poster

Pygmalion poster

The music, performed by Ensemble Molière, for whom French baroque music is something of a speciality, was a treat, as were performances by Cooter, Diamond, and Roberta Diamond, who played Céphise, Pygmalion’s ex-girlfriend.

In addition to the exceptional vocals from the opera singers, the delightful animation by Kate Anderson, which operated as both set and storytelling device, must be commended.

Projected behind the performers, Anderson’s art style for her Pygmalion animation strikes as distinctly à la mode Parisienne, combining ink line drawings with graphic blocks of colour to represent the iconic architecture of the city.

The animation also had the benefit of showcasing text summarising the original French lyrics for the English-speaking audience, an aspect which, along with Pygmalion’s modernisation, contributed to the accessibility of the performance for those with little knowledge of opera.

The occasional little nods to modernity - L’Amour conciliates Céphise by introducing her to a ‘Matchr’ app, selfies are taken on travels to Venice and England, subtitles are plucked from Moulin Rouge’s Elephant Love Medley - are funny, and help to create an immersive performance.

Ensemble Molière approached Pygamlion with the intent of devising a ‘cross-art opera project’, and the performance, which was held at the Sallis Benney Theatre, University of Brighton, is truly successful as a multi-faceted show combining visual and aural art. It’s exciting to think about what the team might come up with next.

For more information about Ensemble Molière, visit www.ensemblemoliere.com. Find out more about BREMF at bremf.org.uk.