Michael White’s classical news: Les Indes Galantes; Jakub Jozef Orlinski; James Ehnes; Classical Vauxhall

Thursday, 3rd February — By Michael White

Les Indes Galantes

Les Indes Galantes is at the Cockpit Theatre

FOR those of us brought up on cowboy films that encouraged the idea of native Americans as savage killers, it’s not easy to imagine; but in 1725 a deputation of tribal chiefs from Illinois sailed over to France, enjoyed cordial meetings with King Louis XV, pledging allegiance to his crown, and danced – to the delight of Parisian audiences and the fascination of composers like Jean-Philippe Rameau, who was inspired by the experience to write a sequence of pieces that eventually became his opera-ballet Les Indes Galantes. With a rambling narrative loosely based around an 18th-century fantasy of love in exotic places around the world it never quite caught on. But in modern times it’s been taken up as a cause – with good reason because it’s full of tunes and charm. And it gets a rare London staging this month from the enterprising small-scale touring company Ensemble OrQuesta Baroque. Done in French but with English surtitles, it runs Feb 4-12 at the Cockpit Theatre, a venue that takes some finding, because it’s tucked away in the hidden backstreets of North Marylebone, but is worth the effort. Details: ensembleorquesta.com

Hyper-visible in London at the moment is Polish countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski, being not only one of the stars in the Royal Opera’s new, must-see staging of Handel’s Theodora but appearing in his own right (backed by period-band Il Pomo d’Oro) at the Wigmore Hall on Feb 10. Not so long ago his voice was still a relative curiosity that more or less belonged in church choirs and required excuses when it transferred to the stage because technique and power were usually lacking. Now, all that has changed. And in the likes of Orlinski you find a dazzling voice combined with superstar charisma. He has presence, dynamism, glamour. He can act. And he can breakdance – something the press made much of when he first got famous although, as he told me when we met up last week, he won’t be pressurised into doing those kind of “tricks” (his word) in performance unless the context truly requires it.
So expect no dancing at the Wigmore: just the seriousness of arias by Handel and his baroque contemporaries. And book fast, because it will be a hot ticket. wigmore-hall.org.uk

• Someone else very much in London at the moment is Canada’s star violinist James Ehnes, who appears in recital at the Wigmore Hall on Feb 6 and then re-appears as soloist in Walton’s Violin Concerto at the Festival Hall on Feb 10. Ehnes is elegant, engaging and intelligent as a performer. He presents well. And this concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra under John Wilson has stand-out potential. southbankcentre.co.uk

Classical Vauxhall is a mini-festival that runs with the strapline “Classical Done Differently”. How differently I can’t say because I haven’t yet been to it, but I plan to next week when the latest instalment runs at St Mark’s Church, Kennington. Organised by Irish pianist Fiachra Garvey, it features chamber music performed by young virtuosi like horn player Ben Goldscheider and cellist Leonard Elsenbroich. I guess there’s a degree of informality in the presentation. And it probably reveals a lot about the venture that its concerts include one called The Royal Opera House is Burning with Asian drag countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim (aka Kimchilla Bartoli) singing Purcell, Bizet and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Something there for everyone. Feb 10-13. beinvauxhall.com/classical

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