When, in 1989, American William Christie arrived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) with his France-based vocal and instrumental ensemble Les Arts Florissants a new world opened up for audiences interested in opera, music, dance, theater, and something called "historical performance practice."
Christie and his troupe presented a work that was known—if it was known much at all—from music history books: Atys. It's a French Baroque opera by Jean-Baptiste Lully, who in his career served Louis XIV. Seeing that production it was hard to imagine anything more intensely dramatic, musically vivid, revelatory in its beauty, or vivid in performance. Oh, and did I say, erotic? (Atys is a young man who professes indifference to love, but there’s a nymph who stirs his passions...)
Since then, Les Arts Florissants has returned often and this year for the first time BAM has built a mini-festival of French and English Baroque music around their visit, March 18-April 2, and it is packed with three opera stagings, Baroque “cabarets” (presented in the informal BAM café), concerts, a film screening, and master class.
And if you’re ears perk up by performances on 17th and 18th-century instruments and in styles reflective of that time, head to the newly renovated André Merten Galleries for Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where you can admire more than 200 instruments from the Met’s extensive collections.
You may not be able to touch the oldest extant piano, built by the Florentine Bartolomeo Cristofori in 1720, pick up the Stradivarius violin, strum one of Segovia’s guitars, or raise Benny Goodman’s clarinet to your lips, but you can admire them all and get a sense of how they were built and, most important, how they sounded with the Met’s essential, new audio guide.
Mario R. Mercado is the arts editor for Travel + Leisure