Sunday, January 24, 2010

Le Vaux de Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque chateau located 55 km southeast of Paris. It was built between 1658 to 1661 for Nicolas Fouquet, Marquis de Belle Ile, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, and Superintendent of the finances of Louis XIV.

The château was one of the most influential architectural works built in Europe in the mid-17th century and the most elaborate house built in France after the Chateau de Maisons-Lafitte, designed by Francois Mansart from 1630 to 1651 (below).

Once a small château located between the royal residences of Vicennes and Fontainebleau, the estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte was purchased by Nicolas Fouquet in 1641. At that time he was an ambitious twenty-six year-old member of the Parliament of Paris. Fouquet was an avid patron of the arts and attracted many artists with the gifts and encouragements he poured on them.

When Fouquet became King Louis XIV's superintendent of finances in 1657, he commissioned Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre to renovate his estate and garden to match his grand ambition. Fouquet’s artistic and cultivated personality subsequently brought out the best in the three.

At Vaux-le-Vicomte the architect Louis Le Vau, the gardener Andre le Notre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun, worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the Louis XIV 'en suite' style of architecture, interior design, works of art, and garden landscaping. The garden's use of a baroque axis that extends to infinity is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as sixteen million livres.

The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Moliere were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by Francois Vatel and an impressive firework show.

The château was lavish, refined, and dazzling to behold, but these characteristics proved tragic for its owner: the king had Fouquet arrested shortly after a famous fête that took place on 17 August 1661 where Molière's play 'Les Fâcheux' debuted. The celebration had been too impressive and the superintendent's home too luxurious. Fouquet's intentions were to flatter the King: part of Vaux-le-Vicomte was actually constructed specifically for the king, but Fouquet's plan backfired. Jean-Baptiste Colbert led the king to believe that his minister's magnificence was funded by the misappropriation of public funds. Colbert, who then replaced Fouquet as superintendent of finances, arrested him.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

Madame Fouquet recovered her property ten years later and retired there with her eldest son. In 1705, after the death of her husband and son, she decided to put Vaux-le-Vicomte up for sale.

The Marechal de Villars became the new owner although he had never even set eyes on the place. In 1764, the Maréchal's son sold the estate to the Duc de Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier at a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the renowned architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son and daughter-in-law completed the task. It remains in the hands of his family today, owned by the Comte de Vogue.

Above: The Muse's Salon

Below: The Grand Salon

Above: The King's Room

Below: The Hercules Room

Below: Mrs Fouquet's Room

Above: The crown fountain

Below: Night shot of the Chateau with thousands of candles

Below: A small video of views of the chateau

Opera Unleashed...

Opera Unleashed is an opera company recently formed by a school friend of mine, Evelyne Bourton. Evelyne graduated from the University of Waikato with a BMus(1st class Hons) and a post-graduate diploma in linguistics as a Sir Edmund Hillary Scholar.

A regular on the concert platform, she has sung in concert with Dame Malvina Major and renowned New Zealand Bass Grant Dickson who she is currently studying under.

She has sung as a soloist with Hamilton Cantando Choir, University of Waikato Choir and was the winner of the 2008 Hamilton Civic Choir solo artist scholarship. As a member of the Chapman Tripp New Zealand Opera Chorus she has sung in operas including Lucia di Lammermoor, Turandot and the Mahler 3rd Symphony.

She sang the role of The Dragonfly and the French Lady's Chair in The Opera Factory's production of 'The Bewitiched Child' by Maurice Ravel and has been a soloist in three of David Griffths operas. She has been a multiple prize winner at the N.Z Aria competition and has sung with the APO.

This year her opera company is performing La Finta Giardiniera.


The most important event of La finta giardiniera takes place a year before the action begins on stage. Count Belfiore, in a fit of passion, stabs his lover, the Marchioness Violante Onesti. He then flees, believing he has killed her. But Violante is not dead. The wound is grievous, but it heals. Her heart, on the other hand, does not. She is still very much in love with the Count. She disguises herself as a simple gardener's girl and, accompanied by her loyal servant, sets out in search of Belfiore.

Act I

A garden with a wide staircase leading to the Mayor's mansion.

The Mayor, Cavalier Ramiro and Serpetta descend the staircase as Sandrina and Nardo work in the garden. Together they praise the lovely day. But their happiness is feigned: Sandrina is wretched because Don Anchise is in love with her; Nardo is frustrated by Serpetta, who teases him but refuses to respond to his affections; Ramiro is bitter about being tossed aside by Arminda; and, because she has set her own cap at the Mayor, Serpetta is angry at Sandrina.

The Mayor is the only happy person in the group. Today is his niece's wedding day, and her suitor is due to arrive at any moment. He also is giddy over his plan to propose to Sandrina, which he does at the first opportunity. Sandrina demurs and, when Serpetta rudely interrupts, makes her escape.

Arminda's betrothed, none other than Count Belfiore, arrives and is swept off his feet by her great beauty. But Arminda is quick to let him know that she is someone to be reckoned with: Woe to you if I catch you being unfaithful, she warns. I will box your ears. The Count then boasts of his deeds and ancestry to the Mayor. His family tree, he says proudly, can be traced to Scipio, Cato and Marcus Aurelius. Don Anchise responds with a mixture of awe and skepticism, as though he doesn't care what sort of buffoon this fellow is - as long as he marries his niece.

In the garden, Arminda finds Sandrina and casually mentions that she is to marry Count Belfiore. Stunned by the news, Sandrina faints. When the Count arrives, Arminda leaves him to watch over Sandrina while she rushes off to fetch her smelling salts. He is shocked to find that this simply dressed gardener's girl is none other than Violante.

As is so appropriate for an opera buffa finale, everything gets turned on its head. Arminda returns and immediately runs into the last person she expects to encounter, her former lover Ramiro, who is approaching from the opposite direction. Sandrina awakens and finds herself looking directly into the eyes of Belfiore. What are they to do?

The Mayor enters and demands an explanation. But no one knows quite what to say. Sandrina wavers, unable to make up her mind about revealing her true identity, and nearly driving Belfiore out of his mind in the process. Arminda suspects that she's being deceived, but she isn't quite sure. The Mayor blames everything on Serpetta; Serpetta in turn blames Sandrina; and Ramiro, on the periphery, is certain only of the fact that Arminda still does not love him.

Act II

A hall in the Mayor's palace.

Ramiro discovers Arminda and insists that she hear him out. He upbraids her for her inconstancy. When she refuses to listen, he departs, but not before promising revenge upon his rival. Belfiore enters in some distress, muttering: I have no peace since I found Sandrina. Arminda, overhearing this, confronts him angrily before exiting in the grand manner of a spurned seria heroine.

Sandrina is in the worst kind of dilemma. She has finally found her true love, but she is about to lose him forever to another woman. For reasons of her own, she has refused to reveal her identity. Yet when she encounters Belfiore, the question comes gushing out: Why did you stab me and desert me? The Count, overjoyed, responds: Then you are Violante! But Sandrina quickly reassumes her disguise. No, she says, that is what the poor girl said as she died. No matter, Belfiore says, you have the face of my Violante. He begins to serenade her but, partway through, the Mayor enters. Belfiore takes the Mayor's hand, believing it belongs to Sandrina -- then retreats in embarrassment when he discovers his mistake.

Alone with Sandrina, the Mayor again attempts to woo her. But once again he is interrupted, this time by Ramiro, who arrives with the news from Milan that Count Belfiore is wanted for murder. Don Anchise immediately summons Belfiore for questioning. The Count, thoroughly baffled, implicates himself. In order to save him, Sandrina reveals herself as Violante, and the proceedings break up in some confusion. The Count approaches Sandrina, but she pushes him away. I am not your Violante, she says, I only pretended to be in order to save you.

Moments later, Serpetta arrives to tell the Mayor, Nardo and Ramiro that Sandrina has run away. In reality, Arminda and Serpetta have conspired to abduct her, and she has been carried off and abandoned in the wilderness. The Mayor immediately organizes a search party.

A deserted, mountainous spot.

Sandrina is nearly frightened out of her wits. But, in small groups, her rescuers soon begin to arrive: the Count and Nardo, Arminda, Serpetta and the Mayor. Mistaken identities multiply in the darkness: The Mayor mistakes Arminda for Serpetta, and she him for the Count; the Count believes Serpetta is Sandrina, while she believes him to be the Mayor. Nardo alone manages to find his mistress by following her voice. Ramiro, the gallant cavalier, arrives with footmen carrying torches.

All this confusion is too much for poor Belfiore and Sandrina. While the others bicker, they begin to lose their minds. I am the terrible Medusa! cries Sandrina. I am the fearless Alcides! responds the Count. Everyone looks on in astonishment as they begin to dance.


The courtyard.

The Count and Sandrina are certifiably insane, as Nardo discovers. Still believing that they are gods from classical Greece, they pursue him until he distracts them by pointing at the sky. Look at difference between the sun and the moon! he cries. Observe all the lovesick stars! They are entranced and Nardo is able to make his escape.

Events are taking their toll on the Mayor's judgment, too. Arminda begs for permission to marry the Count, and Ramiro demands that he order her to marry him. But he becomes confused and gives in to them both: Do what you want, he says, just do not trouble me any more.

A garden.

The Count and Sandrina gradually awaken after sleeping, at a discreet distance from one another, in the garden. Their madness has passed. Belfiore makes one final appeal, and Sandrina admits that she is, indeed Violante. However, she says, she loves him no more. Sadly, the Count agrees that they should go their separate ways.

But (this is an opera buffa, after all) their feet begin to drag, and they turn back. The mutual attraction of their love is too strong: They fall into each other's arms and then immediately run off to get married.

The Mayor and Arminda are dumbfounded when they hear the news. After they recover from their initial shock, they, along with everyone else, take it all in stride. Arminda decides to marry Ramiro, and Serpetta even decides that Nardo isn't such a bad choice, after all. Only the Mayor is left out, and he accepts his fate philosophically. Perhaps, he says, he will someday meet another gardener's girl.

Peter and I, patrons of the arts that we are, hope to have regular Glyndebourne styled afternoons at Willowbrook Park with Evelyne's help.

Until then, you can enjoy the work of her company at the Hamilton Gardens Festival...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Favourite Designers Part II: Jacques Garcia...

Jacques Garcia, (born September 23, 1947) is a French architect and interior designer. He has designed many private residences, including his own, the revamped Chateau du Champ de Bataille. He is also noted for his hospitality design, designing many hotels including in Hotel Costes in Paris, Hotel Danieli in Venice, and Hotel Metropole in Monte Carlo.

Above: Foyer of the Hotel Danieli, Venice

Below: Hotel Costes, Paris

Hotel Metropole

Chateau du Champ de Bataille

The Château du Champ-de-Bataille, located in the region Haute Normandie, between the commune of Neubourg and Sainte Opportune du Bosc, in the Department Eure, is a baroque castle built in 17th century. It is situated in the Campagne du Neubourg between the rivers Risle and Iton.

The history of the castle goes back to the tenth century, went it was the site of a definitive battle, hence the name Champ-de-Bataille - Battlefield. The two families who reigned over the region under the French feudal system battled for power. They were led by Guillaume Longue Épée, and Robert le Danois. William (Guillaume) won, and with his victory, Normandy gained its independence.

Much later, in 1651, there was a seminal event: Marquis Alexandre de Créqui-Bernieulle (1628-1703), a friend of the Prince of Conde, was exiled to the region by Cardinal Mazarin, who governed France during the minority of Louis XIV. Crequi then decided to build a magnificent palace which recall the splendor of the Court that he would never know. He built the Château du Champ-de-Bataille between 1653 and 1665. Unfortuantely, Crequi died backrupt, but bequeathed the castle to his nephew, Anne-François d'Harcourt, Duc de Beuvron and governor of Normandy. At that time the house was very dilapidated. D'Harcourt then undertook considerable work to restore the glories of yesteryear. But the Revolution interrupted this gigantic task, which remained unfinished for generations.

It languished in the hands of several owners in a ruinous state until Jacques Garcia purchased it in 1999, and transformed it to the glorious house and gardens it is today.

Initially there were no gardens on the property, but Garcia designed the gardens from period plans.

Above: The French Parterres

Below: The Temple of Leda

Which leads to an elegant segue: the story of Leda and the Swan. This tale comes from Greek mythology. The legend recalls that Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan and raped or seduced her on the same night she slept with her husband, King Tyndareus of Sparta. According to later Greek mythology, Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces by Zeus whilst bearing Castor and Clytemnestra Tyndareus. In some versions, she laid two eggs from which the children hatched.

Above: Reproduction of a lost Michaelangelo Painting of Leda and the swan

Below: The most famous depiction of Leda and the swan, by Leonardo da Vinci.

Below: A more controversial depiction (does one censor art?)

(If this offends anyone's sensibilities please let me know and I shall remove it directly)

"Leda and the Swan" is a poem by William Butler Yeats describing the swan's seduction of Leda.

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

The Official website for his chateau is here

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...