Photo Journal: Lully's Psych_ at the Boston Early Music Festival

Classic Arts News   Photo Journal: Lully's Psych_ at the Boston Early Music Festival
"Experiencing Psych_ is akin to taking a very leisurely stroll in an exquisitely tended royal garden," wrote The Boston Globe's Jeremy Eichler about the centerpiece of this year's Boston Early Music Festival, the North American premiere production of Jean-Baptiste Lully's 1678 trag_die lyrique, written for the court of Louis XIV.

In The New York Times, on the other hand, Anne Midgette suggested that Baroque opera "was the Busby Berkeley extravaganza of its day ... focused on spectacle and pageantry" (which was surely true of the repertoire at Versailles); she found that this revival "captured some of the antic excess of the era, with a prodigal wealth of singers and dancers in colorful costumes, awash in lace and face powder." (Have a look at the photos below and see.)

The libretto of Psych_, by Thomas Corneille, is based on classical myth: the goddess Venus, enraged with jealousy at the beauty of the mortal Psyche, sends her son Cupid to earth to destroy the maiden, but he falls in love with her instead.

Returning Psych_ to the stage was a large undertaking, even for the BEMF, which revives a neglected full-length Baroque opera for each of its biennial festivals. Festival music directors Paul O'Dette and Stephen Stubbs assembled a performing edition from nearly three dozen sources. The production featured a full Baroque orchestra with strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, a children's chorus, a company of eight dancers performing reconstructed 17th-century steps, sets and costumes based on historical models, and recreations of period stage machinery. The cast of 21 singers was headed by two outstanding sopranos: Carolyn Sampson as the beautiful, beleaguered Psyche and Karina Gauvin as her celestial tormentor, Venus.

The effort and expense seem to have been worthwhile, to judge from audience and critical reaction. Eichler wrote for the Globe that director Gilbert Blin and his team successfully achieved "an elusive wedding of modern vitality and period accuracy"; he had particular praise for Lucy Graham's "sparking choreography" and Anna Watkins's "dazzling costumes."

Sampson was "a vision of beauty in her glittering white costume ... and her singing matched her looks," according to Keith Powers in The Boston Herald; Eichler said she "gave a radiant and pure-voiced performance ... that conveyed her character's innocence and vulnerability." Gauvin was "vocally commanding and dramatically persuasive" (Eichler), and the cast was, per Powers, "outstanding."

Psych_ spends this coming weekend in the Berkshires, with three performances at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, June 22-24. Information and tickets are available at and

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All photos by Andre Costantini.

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