Q: What do you get when you combine coffee and gallstones?
A: Lord Rochester’s Monkey and a cure for insomnia.
The ensemble brought French Salon Music of the 17th Century to the Fringe. But this second foray into the Fringe, which featured Harpsichord, Guitar, Violin, Vocals, and humour all in one… fell flat. In fact, the best thing about the performance, wasn’t the performance at all, it was the anecdotes, which isn’t saying much.
The most amusing one involved Louis Marchand, who apparently was quite the character. He was not the best of husbands and was constantly forgetting to give his wife money for the household expenses. She, crafty lady that she was, went to Louis XIV, and demanded that the state give half his salary directly to her. Upon hearing this, Marchand told the King that as his wife wanted half his salary, she ought to compose and play half his music, and promptly walked out on the Sun King in a huff! It is a wonder that he ever played at the French court again.
The first half of the performance focused on the joys of coffee and coffeehouse culture, which came to France at that time. It started out rather slowly with the first piece, William McGibbon’s sonata in D. The musicians, playing the harpsichord, violin and Basso Continuo, were not listening to each other and seemed to be playing off beat. The performance picked up slightly with the next two pieces, Marais’ Saille de Caffe, a rather staccato piece that followed the effects of caffeine withdrawal, and Marchand’s Chaconne in D Minor. Both of these pieces were rhythmically complex, though repetitive and rather boring. The audience woke up from its nap to hear Ms. Frances Cooper sing Nicola Bernier’s Le Caffe. Her soprano was decent even if she and the music did not always seem to be on the same page.
Coffee was thought, rightly so it seems, to cure gallstones. The second half of the performance took up this idea, treating the audience to a gallstone removal operation set, rather unfortunately, to music. The piece, and its narrative in French and English might have been amusing if it was not quite so jarring. Ms Cooper once again woke the audience with a performance of Le Mort de Didon, a very odd choice for the end of a performance largely about coffee and its effect on gallstones. One has to wonder just what the death of the Queen of Carthage has to do with coffee and gallstones.
Frankly, the program gave it all away. As the audience was transported to 17th Century France, the performance ought to have been called Le Café, not Le Caffe. After all, they were not transported to Italy.
For more details on the performance and group: Edinburgh Fringe
Written by Katerina Manousakis