Ticket to French Opulence

Party like it's 1699: Ars Lyrica travels to baroque world of musical pleasures

Ars Lyrica parties like it's 1699 in baroque world of musical pleasure

2 Ars Lyrica presents Menus-Plaisirs September 2013 logo
Ars Lyrica presents "Menus-Plaisirs," a musical evening that travels to the world of the French royal court. Photo by © Anthony Rathbun
Ars Lyrica presents Menus-Plaisirs September 2013 Matthew Dirst Ars Lyrica Houston
Matthew Dirst, Ars Lyrica artistic director. Photo by © Anthony Rathbun
Aaron Sheehan
Aaron Sheehan, tenor. Courtesy photo
2 Ars Lyrica presents Menus-Plaisirs September 2013 logo
Ars Lyrica presents Menus-Plaisirs September 2013 Matthew Dirst Ars Lyrica Houston
Aaron Sheehan

During the reign of Louis XIV, critics bashed the royal court's lavish lifestyle. The fine clothing, wine, jewels . . . the regent's penchant for the best of everything could understandably stir fits of jealous rage from the less-than-privileged class.

In the French Baroque era, entertainment was a serious business that involved an entire retinue devoted to managing every detail of anything from somber religious occasions to fanciful feasts. Although the big top productions were exclusive, the king's patronage of French arts nurtured a cornucopia of music, literature and theater.

Admittedly, without the nobles, we plebs would not get to enjoy some of the classics we hear today.

During a reverie at work (shhh!), I wondered what would a day in the French royal court circa 1600s entail? Would I have the chance to live notoriously rich as Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette? A girl can dream, can't she?

Perhaps a lavish lifestyle isn't in the cards for me, but my fate isn't stopping me from basking in French exquisiteness vicariously through the arts. Toss the corset aside, there is a modern-day invitation to experience old-world Versailles right here in Houston.

 "You can take a trip to Baroque France in one evening and never leave Houston. How's that for elite time-travel?"

Ars Lyrica's Sunday performance at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, titled "Menus-Plaisirs," part of the discovery theme for the ensemble's new season, is my golden ticket to second-hand opulence. 

"You can take a trip to Baroque France in one evening and never leave Houston," artistic direct Matthew Dirst says. "It's all about a good tune and a good time! How's that for elite time-travel?"

The noble evening, which translates to "Cabinet of Musical Pleasures," features a repertoire of delightful pieces that includes compositions by Handel and Lully. The settings are fairly simple: A playful singing contest and a theatrical Intermezzo by Charpentier that would have accompanied Molière's comedy Le mariage forcé.

Also on the program are Jean-Féry Rebel's Les plaisirs champêtres; Handel's Tune Your Harps from Esther, Fato, tiranno from Flavio and Cara pianta from Apollo e Dafne; Chédeville's Concerto after Vivaldi, The Four Seasons; Charpentier's Petite Pastorale; and Lully's Symphonie in A minor (Trios de coucher le Roy).

The vocal debuts of tenor Aaron Sheehan and baritone John Buffett also add to the evening's upscale renditions.

Ars Lyrica's cabinet of musical pleasures promises to treat you like a French king. Or queen.

I choose princess.

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Ars Lyrica presents "Menus-Plaisirs" on Sunday, 6 p.m., at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased online or by calling 713-315-2525.