CAMBRIDGE — “The Night’s Tale” is also “The Knight’s Tale,” telling of what medieval knights and their ladies did first by day and then after dark. One can only hope they enjoyed themselves as much as the Boston Camerata did Saturday at Longy School of Music’s Pickman Hall.
Camerata artistic director Anne Azéma’s starting point for the project, which previously was presented at Boston College in 2007, was “Le tournoi de Chauvency,” a narrative poem of more than 4,000 lines written by Jacques Bretel about a tournament in Lorraine that took place in October 1285. “The Night’s Tale” falls into two parts. In “Armes — Day,” the knights joust with each other, as well as for the favor of their chosen ladies. In “Amours — Night,” knights and ladies close ranks.
At Longy, a diagonal playing space was created on the floor, with the audience on either side, and additional seats on the stage. The Camerata vocalists — soprano Camila Parias, mezzos Azéma and Clare McNamara, tenor Jordan Weatherston Pitts, and baritone Joel Nesvadba — were joined by eight Longy School students; everyone started in black shirts and pants, but for “Amours — Night” the ladies changed into dresses and the men shed their leather jackets. Camerata music director emeritus Joel Cohen connected the musical selections with excerpts from Bretel’s poem. Illuminations from the “Tournoi” manuscript were projected on one wall.
The evening, without intermission, ran just 75 minutes, yet very few evenings are as rewarding. Shira Kammen, whose zesty vielle and lilting harp provided most of the music, managed to sound like an entire orchestra. The vocalists, Longy students included, sang the medieval French as if it were their native language, and they created rousing theater. In the equine ode “There’s Bayard in the pasture,” the men snorted and pawed. When they mimed jousting, the ladies, now in the balcony, waved cheerleader pompons.
For “He indeed becomes bound/Who follows/ The pretty path of love,” Parias, McNamara, Pitts, and Nesvadba wrapped themselves in a long swath of white fabric before the first three, holding hands, exited, leaving Nesvadba behind. And for “At the start of the new season,” in which a lady chooses the poor suitor she loves over the rich one she doesn’t, a dozen singers executed a nifty line dance, turning to one half of the audience and then the other.
When they danced out, Nesvadba, head down, was again left behind, and it’s he who sang Thibault de Champagne’s defiant coda. Love may not always triumph, but it endures.
The Night’s Tale: A Tournament of Love
Performed by the Boston Camerata and Longy School of Music of Bard College. At Pickman Hall, Longy School of Music, April 16.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.