Perelada is a village in Catalunya a few kilometres inland from the Costa Brava and South of the French border. Its 13th century castle and slightly later monastery have been in the same private hands since the 1920s; the Mateu family first restoring the buildings and grounds and then turning it into a combination of museum, wine cellar complex, casino and fine dining halls. The music and dance festival has been running since 1987 and takes place in a semi-permanent structure in the gardens and the connected church of the old monastery, as well as other spaces around the grounds.
Director: Oriol Aguilà
21 & 22 July 2022
Gardens of Perelada Castle,
Near Figueras, Catalunya
L’escultor de les emocions – Three Rodin Sculptures
Sergio Bernal Dancer
Giada Rossi Dancer
Orquestra Cruz Diaz
The Fairy Queen
Ensemble O Vos Omnes (Choir)
Vespres D’Arnadi (Orchestra)
Dani Espasa Conductor
Whoever paid the swan to fly across the stage just as dusk turned to night with the Pyrenees as the backdrop was inspired! The swan glided, the musicians began to play and Sergei Bernal, dressed only in gold pantaloons, started to impersonate Rodin’s sculpture Torse d’homme Louis XIV.
It was all about him, of course, balletic moves implying controlled glorification, self-absorbed narcisism as the music of his court composer, Lully, shifted to something less predictable in Jordi Savall’s arrangements.
For The Kiss, Bernal was joined by Giada Rossi as they intertwined, glistening in the heat, to a recording of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte in Valentina Zuccheti’s choreography. The movement was more inventive here than in Bernal and Ricardo Cue’s for the Louis XIV depiction, and somehow the fact that night had fallen properly as we sat in the grounds of the Perelada vineyard gave their dance before they finished with the kiss itself added erotic depth. It was a shame the Pavane was not arranged for the octet of musicians avalable live, though. Using a recorded track broke the intimacy by bringing in the outside world.
The final dance, derived by Bernal and Cue from the pose of The Thinker, was the cleverest of the three. Instead of going for the most obvious depiction – gentle contemplation – they made him restless and tortured, at times nervously shaking as the pose itself transformed into a nightmare search for calm. The music, by Roque Baños, featured superb guitar playing by Daniel Jurado, accompanied by strings which gave a feel somewhere between flamenco and classical, beautifully capturing Bernal’s lurches from high drama to repose.
This was, apparently, the first time the festival had constructed a stage looking out across the fields to the mountains and the setting was perfect for small-scale dance, letting nature be itself without the interference of a theatre designer, and in that the experiment was a triumph. Less successful, sadly, was the unnecessary amplification of the music, which not only had the speakers placed much too close to the audience, but rendered pointless the separation of the musicians into two groups since everything came out in loud mono. There is a tendency to assume that instruments au naturel cannot be heard outdoors. This is simply not true: ears adjust. The pernicious influence of rock festivals can be banished.
The same problem haunted the otherwise extraordinary production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, Thomas Betterton’s 1692 extravaganza only very loosely based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream (far more loosely than Sondheim’s West Side Story was on Romeo and Juliet). Apparently the decision to amplify, rather than just augment, the sound through loudspeakers mounted high above the front of the outdoor stage was taken late in the production process. It was a disastrous one. Because everything was amplified it became impossible, even from middle distance, to work out who was singing on stage. The Echo Chorus made absolutely no sense without an echo!
Since the costumes gave little clue to character (each one taken from the dressing-up box of previous Perelada productions) and the subtitles (in Catalan and Spanish) did not say who was singing either, the plot effectively disappeared. Without intervening spoken dialogue, the show became a succession of unconnected numbers, fine in themselves but without a coherent context. The distortions of catch-all sound balancing also destroyed most of the musical dynamics: rendering all orchestra and singers’s contributions mezzo-forte.
Once irritated, it became hard to concentrate on the evening’s good points. It was a big shame because there were many, especially on the musical side. The period orchestra Vespres D’Arnadi assembled under Dani Espasa was one of the finest I’ve heard in an opera: ensemble immaculate, continuo subtle and unintrusive. The first trumpet (such an important role in late Purcell) Carles Herruz was superb and violinist Faran Sylvan James accompanied Ana Quintans in The Plaint “Oh, let me weep” with immaculate timing. This amazing aria is always the highlight and they gave it full value, despite the electronic and visual obstacles that engineer and director threw at them.
The chorus – a professional choir rather than an operatic group – held together musically, even if they were often rquired to skit around the stage in random groups for little good reason; the director Joan Anton Rechi falling into the same trap as governments – do Something, no matter what. Purcell wrote a lot of dance music for this show. It needs dancers to make sense of it, not wandering singers looking lost.
Countertenor and comedian Xavier Sabata appeared as a speaking Puck and master of ceremonies, dressed successively as a burly charlady, Queens Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II. It was outlandish but firmly in the tradition of Betterton’s satirical theatre, so one could hardly object. The local audience loved it (anything British raises a derisory laugh in Spain after Brexit) and so too, probably, will television viewers. Remarkably this lavish staging was only pulled together for one night; an absurdity, were it not for the input of RTVE television. However, once the production and sound decisions have been reconsidered, it would be good to see it again, purely for the fabulous professionalism of the musicians.