Louis XIV of France knew how to entertain. It helped, of course, that money was no object. But neither was imagination in short supply.
Spokane’s Allegro – Baroque and Beyond series presents one of those court entertainments, Andre Danican Philador’s comic opera “The Marriage of Fat Kate,” at The Met on Friday.
In keeping with tradition, all of the parts, male and female, will be played by men – including baritone Randel Wagner as the bride, Fat Kate.
The performance will open with instrumental works by other French composers of the period, including Francois Couperin, Michel Corrette and Joseph Bodin de Boismortier.
Philidor was a composer, an oboist and a drummer in royal ensembles as well as the king’s music librarian. Louis asked Philidor to write a comic “masquerade” to celebrate the visit of his daughter, the Princess of Conti, to Versailles during the pre-Lenten carnival season in 1688.
The unwieldy title of the original was “Le mariage de La Couture avec la grosse Cathos (The Marriage of La Couture and Fat Kate).”
Allegro’s performance will be in a new English translation by David Dutton, Allegro’s co-artistic director, and Wagner, a voice professor at Eastern Washington University.
“The original was performed in the royal apartments, not in the luxurious Royal Theater,” Dutton says. “The space was just about the same size as the stage at The Met.”
In addition to Wagner, the cast includes bass Michael Caldwell as La Couture, the groom, and tenor Jadd Davis in multiple roles as wedding guests.
The story relates the marriage of a somewhat-less-than-slim maid to a Parisian bourgeois, himself an apt candidate for Weight Watchers. The wedding ends with a typical 17th-century charavari – called in 19th and early 20th-century America a “shivaree” – a mock serenade to the newlyweds accompanied by pots-and-pans percussion.
“The original (manuscript) of this is in the Bibliotheque National in Paris,” Dutton says. “So far as I know there have been two performances of it since 1688, one at the Amherst Early Music Festival and another in Japan.”
Dutton found a facsimile copy of the original manuscript and transcribed its complex, difficult-to-read original notation into a modern score.
“I must have worked more than 100 hours on making a modern score and parts,” Dutton says. “Not only was the original very faint, it used forms of notation that musicians are not taught now, even in the best music schools.”
The original manuscript not only had the words and music but the stage setup and the choreography. Dodie Askegard, director of Theater Ballet of Spokane, has arranged the original choreography for her modern dance troupe.
“What I have tried to do here, since I am not an expert on baroque dance, is capture the spirit of the original,” Askegard said. “It’s really remarkable that this is one of the earliest instances when the staging was set down in such a detailed way – all the way from the placement of musicians and singers onstage to the movement of the dancers.”
Dancers for Friday’s performance will include Noelle Connolly, Shareen DeRyan, Nathan Driftmeyer, Hillary Eaton, Colin Holbrook and Leyna Swoboda.
In addition to oboist-conductor Dutton and Allegro co-artistic director Beverly Biggs on harpsichord, musicians include percussionist Sam Wollenhaupt and Spokane Symphony oboists Keith Thomas and Barbara Cantlon and bassoonist Luke Bakken.
“Since the instrumentalists will be onstage along with the singers and dancers,” Dutton says, “we’ll be in costume, too.”
Leonard Oakland, an English professor at Whitworth College, will give a pre-concert talk on the evening’s music at 7:15 p.m.
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