The Sheldonian Theatre hosted the first complete performance of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opera, Anacréon (1754), in over 250 years. It was revived by Jonathan Williams, Director of Music at St Hilda’s, who reconstructed the score from manuscripts scattered around Paris.
When asked why he began the project, Wiliams told Cherwell, “The sources were incomplete and little was known about the music or its composition – it hadn’t even been published – so it presented some interesting challenges to the novice musicologist. The first was to arrive at a definitive version of the score. The autograph score hasn’t survived and none of the surviving musical sources is complete. It was quite a puzzle!”
The piece was performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Williams claimed that they were the obvious choice for the project, saying, “More than any other orchestra I know, the players of OAE combine an open-minded approach towards scholarship with an unparalleled virtuosity and creative enthusiasm and flexibility. So to perform Rameau with OAE, world-class soloists and the Choir of Magdalen College at the Sheldonian is a dream come true! Rameau is seldom performed in the UK so Friday’s concert was an opportunity relished by performers and the audience alike.”
Jonathan Cross, Chair of the Musical Faculty Board, commented, “This was a thrilling event for all involved – performers and audience alike. The rapturous reception said it all. The musicians of the orchestra made the music dance. The soloists performed with Gallic verve. It was a true coming together of musical scholarship and practice. The memory of the evening will linger for a long time.”
Eric Clarke, who was Chair of the Faculty Board when the idea was first proposed, was equally impressed by the musical, saying, “The performance was a fantastic success: not only did the music turn out to be wonderful (and thus quite wrongly neglected for over 250 years), but the playing and singing were electrifying – as the Sheldonian’s packed audience demonstrated with their rapturous reception.”
Students who saw the opera were equally thrilled. Jem Lowther, second year musician and Choral Scholar at Corpus Christi, added: “The whole production was a wonderful piece of musical theatre, with panache, precision and flair. In the theatre, it felt as though a part of history was being rejuvenated on stage. To be there, for that moment, was magical.”