A for effort, but mixed achievement for an ambitious Les fêtes d’Hébé


April 6th, 2017. David Karlin

Hebe, goddess of youth and cupbearer of the gods, has got fed up with Mount Olympus, not least with the unwanted attentions of Momus, god of satire and mockery. She wings it down to earth, where she alights (where else) on the banks of the Seine, to discover a raft of festivities awaiting her, each representing the lyric talents of poetry, music and dance – from the pen of none other than the court composer par excellence, Jean-Philippe Rameau. Back in 1739, the glorification of Paris as the centre of the artistic world can’t have been missed by a single audience member.

It takes a brave company to turn Les fêtes d’Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques into something suitable for a London audience: the opéra-ballet form is so far from our current concept of opera and we lack so much of the cultural context that would have been so familiar to the denizens of Paris in 1739 – even in South Kensington, with a substantial body of French people in the audience.