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L'EUROPE GALANTE (article first published : 2006-07-3)

Michel Schneuwly must have been a happy man yesterday evening after the first performance on the National Arts Festival of Baroque 2000’s fascinating presentation of L'Europe Galante written by Andre Campra (1660-1744).

Having previewed in Durban at the Playhouse last week, the production is a result of a recent trip to Paris where Michel spent some time browsing through piles of old music. It was a considerable step of courage to mount it in South Africa and the festival audience responded well.

Baroque 2000 was launched in 1999 and their performance at the Festival yesterday (to be repeated today at 12h00) has seen this group come into its own. Under the firm leadership of distinguished guest artist, Chiara Banchini, they have never sounded so good.

“Swiss violinist and conductor Chiara Banchini is one of the most renowned Baroque specialists on the international musical scene,” reports William Charlton-Perkins in his column for The Mercury. “Besides building a career as a concert performer, she taught the baroque violin at the Centre for Early Music in Geneva before being appointed to a chair in the instrument at the Schola Cantorum in Basel. She founded her own chamber orchestra, the Ensemble 415, in the early '80s. Noted for its virtuosic and flamboyant playing, the Ensemble undertakes regular concert tours and has made a series of recordings that have been enthusiastically received by the international musical press.”

Sopranos Zenneth Cibane (wrongly spelt in the Festival programme) and Nosuko Teto from the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Opera School and Choral Academy work closely with dancers Desire Davids and Deborah Andrews (former Deborah de la Harpe of the Playhouse and Fantastic Flying Fish dance companies). Also appearing, although heavily miked, is counter-tenor Ndumiso Manana who is studying at the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School.

Campra’s work portrays the musical peoples of Europe as gallant heroes in the dance of love and the opera-ballet has a multi-cultural theme. Boyzie Cekwana’s choreography adds much light-hearted humour, quirky moments and delicious surprises – from the classic courtly gestures of the high French court to the stop-start vibrancy of contemporary dance while adding a strong mix of Africa through the costuming. Black lace is adorned with beadwork, crinolines are covered with printed cloths, and a stunning headpiece married the style of a tiara with traditional headgear – there are exquisite melodies.

All players barring Chiara Banchini are members of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and they get to be choreographed as well - moving into their positions in a stately elegant fashion! It was very effective and gave a great sense of occasion. Pity it can’t be done at the KZNPO concerts – too many instruments to negotiate! The musicians, apart from the cellists, double bass and continuo, remain standing throughout the performance, also adding style and presence. Good to see oboe player David Lloyd back in South Africa – sadly, just for the Festival run.

All congratulations are due to Michel Schneuwly and Baroque 2000 for successfully pulling off a fine presentation. – Caroline Smart




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