Les Plaisirs de Versailles, the Pleasures of Versailles Pinchgut Opera, Sydney City Recital Hall September 2023


Saturday 9 September 2023 Sydney’s City Recital Hall held a full house of keen classical music lovers, ready to experience some rarely heard Baroque works presented by Pinchgut Opera. Pleasures of Versailles focussed on the works of composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Charpentier had not enough written about him in the history books, mainly because he, along with pretty much every other composer of that time period in France, found himself shut out of the King’s court for most of his career. Louis XIV became King as a child and was heavily influenced by the adults around him including the Italian Cardinal Mazarin, a great advocate of Italian Opera. Louis would have grown up around this Italian music and had no hesitation in continuing the habit as he grew up, much to the chagrin of French composers.

As an adult and eventually sovereign, Louis created a monopoly for Jean-Baptiste Lully – another Italian – to completely dominate the French Court. Being the only composer to provide works for the King, Lully was kept extremely busy. For Charpentier, it was only with the help of Louis’ highly influential cousin, Madame de Guise (daughter of Duc d’Orléans), that he got a foot in the door.

De Guise introduced Charpentier to Molière who had a falling out with Lully and was looking for an alternative composer. From his work with Molière and with the persistence of de Guise, Charpentier won the position of providing music for Le Grand Dauphin, heir to the throne. The final step up was providing a series of mini operas for the King himself.

Quite different from anything seen in the 650 seat l’Opera Royal at Versailles, these operas were limited to a few musicians and up to 5 voices to be performed in the intimate, private apartments of the King. He might have a meal for 15 specially chosen guests which would have been extremely informal (and privileged) compared to the usual court rituals. Then, one of these little operas provided the entertainment for about 20-40 minutes. Flippant in their storylines and often comic without being grotesque, they always included a touch of royal flattery and kept the mood of the room high and happy.

Orchestra of the Antipodes concert reviews Sydney Australia Pleasures of Versailles
Erin Helyard directs Orchestra of the Antipodes in Pleasures of Versailles at City Recital Hall, Sydney Australia. Photo: Cassandra Hannagan

Pinchgut’s matinee began with a pleasant instrumental sonata, light as a wafer, followed by two of the mini-operas. Stand out from the orchestra was solo by viola da gamba player Laura Vaughan, clear and expressive. The group as a whole sounded heavenly whilst sitting amongst topiary trees. The lack of amplification made the animated back drop of fountain in the gardens feel all the more plausible. The musicians were so incredibly elegant squeezing every inch of joy from the music.

The first opera Pinchgut presented was simply called “Les Plaisirs de Versailles” or “The Pleasures of Versailles” originally written for 4 voices and orchestra. The story is cute with the singers representing various pleasures you would find at Versailles such as music, games and conversation. A comic argument begins when La Musique (Lauren Lodge-Campbell) just wants to sing for the King but La Conversation (Cathy-Di Zhang) continually interrupts.  The acting took a little while to settle at the beginning but the comic timing grew in strength with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

Soprano Lodge-Campbell created a very likeable character filled with the joy of singing without becoming self absorbed. Soprano Zhang developed a strong character, like a child, free to fully express her likes and dislikes which would change on a whim (usually bribed with chocolate). Melbourne tenor Michael Petruccelli was the character Le Jeu (the Games) with sweet playfulness and crisp vocals. Baritone David Greco stretched to the bass role of The God of Feasts with cartoon facial expressions and a busy-body determination. Extra voice Hannah Fraser felt very much like one of the team and made herself useful as the story flowed.

We really felt we could be sitting with the King when the ensemble cried out “Wait! You can’t leave Louis without Music!” It was such a surprise in the middle of the story and although, I’m sure he was well used to flattery through the opera and ballet presented at court, this was literally adding a little thrill of including him as part of the show.

The set was delightfully kitsch, drawing plenty of positive comment from the crowd before and after the performance. Decorated with fake grass, cushions and a high tea trolley, it might have been a cheap snap shot from Brideshead Revisited with some of the costumes veering towards a 1920’s – 1940’s theme. Raucous contemporary colours seem to be a trademark of the company and added to the festive feel though switching from one mini-opera to the next was highly confusing.

Theatre reviews Sydney Australia Pinchgut Opera Pleasures of Versailles Baroque opera
Soprano Lauren Lodge-Campbell as Filli in Amor Vince ogni cosa, Baroque opera by Charpentier. Photo: Cassandra Hannagan

There was no clear break in the music to end the first opera so no applause ensued. The performers made some basic costume changes but the theme moved further away from the story of the second opera. “Amor Vince Ogni Cosa” or “Love Conquers All” depicted love amongst shepherds and shepherdesses. Lodge-Campbell eventually appeared on stage with a large crook and cardboard cut out lambs sparking the image of Little Bo-Peep. That was the only visual clue that we’d moved on to the next story.

The direction was very difficult to understand with only a vague notion as to the couplings in the cast or what was going on. The performers did a great job with what they were given – excellent work.

More confusion comes from the lack of coherence between the promotional material being nothing at all like what was presented on stage. This is a frequent complaint about both of Sydney’s two main opera companies. The promotional material seldom represents what you have come to see and is mighty annoying. It would be lovely to give a hint to the theme or feel of the visuals which would strengthen and assure the audience that “what you see is what you get”.

In the end though, the music reigned supreme. Musical Director Erin Helyard chose truly heavenly pieces of music for the program which made us all feel like sovereign beings.


Sonate á H. 548

Les Plaisirs de Versailles H. 480

Amor vince ogni cosa H. 492 all by Marc-Antoine Charpentier


Erin Helyard – conductor

Lauren Lodge-Campbell, Cathy-Di Zhang, Hannah Fraser, Michael Petruccelli, David Greco – singers

Karina Schmitz, Simone Slattery, Anthea Cottee, Laura Vaughan, Simon Martyn-Ellis – strings

Melissa Farrow, Mikaela Oberg – woodwind

More about Pinchgut Opera: https://www.pinchgutopera.com.au/ 

 A snippet of Les Plaisirs de Versailles sung by Jacqueline Woodley as La Musique.