Mixing theatre and baroque music – French playwright Moliere in English.

Mixing theatre and baroque music – French playwright Moliere in English.

The whole project started during a Pacific Baroque Orchestra concert few years ago when actor Michel Duran had the chance to meet and become great friend with Michael Jarvis, the orchestra's harpsichord player. Duran was part of the ensemble performing an artistic fencing choreography during the concert. The show went very well and the two started to brainstorm on how to mix theatre with music from the 17th century.  

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Molière (January 15, 1622 - February 17, 1673) is to the French as Shakespeare is to the English and is considered one of the greatest masters of comedy in Western literature. At his time, Moliere worked often with Luly, one of the most prominent musician of the Louis the XIV court. It was then a natural choice to choose this particular playwright with music performed on original instruments: two baroque violins, one viola da gamba, one violone and one harpsichord.

The angle to the show was to bring the audience back to an old theatre in France in the 17th century. At that time, Duran happened to train at The Academie Duello, a historical fencing school. A great chat with Devon Boorman, its founder, lead to have access to its beautiful armory, a vast brick wall space, with swords hung on the wall right downtown Vancouver.

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In choosing Sganarelle, or the imaginary Cuckold for the play, they opted for the play the most performed during Moliere’s life. The story revolved around Sganarelle, his neighbors and his wife. Gorgibus wants his daughter, Celie, to marry a rich man, Valere, instead of Lelie, whom she loves. Celie, lamenting this turn of events while her beloved is away, faints. Her maid catches her and calls out for help. Sganarelle, who happens to be passing, runs over to hold Celie while her maid runs for aid. Sganarelle's wife, however, sees him holding Celie and suspects the worst. She finds a portrait of Lelie, dropped by Celie when she fainted, and admires his good looks. Sganarelle returns and sees his wife gazing at the portrait, and he too suspects an affair. They argue and run off just as Lelie arrives home, after hearing rumors of Celie's wedding plans. 

The whole show was constructed from scratch as the Academie Duello offered a splendid big open, brick wall open room, but everything had to be built (stage) and brought (enough chairs to accommodate 120 patrons). 

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Casting and rehearsals were conducted at the same time and the last touch occurred when the five musicians started rehearsing while the last bit of assembling and painting were performed.  What an amazing feeling to hear XVII century music played in this downtown Vancouver armoury, the trip back to the 17th century had started!

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The show opened with a baroque music concert in the first part and after the intermission the atmosphere went full blast into comedy mode watching the actors going crazy with the ups and down of rumors of adultery and quiproquo so famous in any play by Moliere.

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Although a classical play, the Imaginary Cuckold remains a witty comedy. The energy was high and the burst of the audience's laughter after each exit of the main characters was the best reward to the thespians and musicians alike.   

Mixing theatre, baroque music and French food at the end of the show made lots of happy theatre goers.

Editor-in-chief
Moving from France twenty some years ago, I became a Frenchman outside of France carrying in his baggages a bit of French culture spiced up by new discoveries.