Surprise, surprise! Works of a significant woman baroque-era composer with dates 1655-1729 filled the entire UNC Opera Theatre program at the Ackland Museum at mid-day on October 15. Composer Elizabeth Jacquet del la Guerre inspired this treasure, a showcase of historic music literature. As prelude to a future Evening, also at Versailles, “An Afternoon in Versailles” excelled. It was the second, cleverly planned preview of the larger event to come. An undergraduate seminar at UNC interrelates history, culture and musical performance. These disciplines currently intertwine to culminate in a stage production to recreate a court musicale.

Written and performed by students, An Evening in Versailles will be presented at the Old Playmakers Theatre on December 5. Professors Annegret Fauser, Terry Rhodes and Brent Wissick of the UNC Music Department are the collaborators responsible for the course, working in cooperation with Carolyn Allmendinger, the Ackland’s Educator for University Audiences. The Museum has organized the works of art in this exhibition as a resource for developing a sense of the culture of the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. The exhibit is ongoing through October 26.

Sarah Powell, mezzo-soprano student of Barbara Peters, immediately captivated the audience in the opening work. She came on stage in period costume, complete with a white wig. Her number, “S’en est fait… Judith implore…,” was from Jacquet de la Guerre’s “Judith” cantata in Cantates françoises sur des sujets tirez de l’Écriture (1708).

Countertenor Jonas Laughlin, also a student of Peters, presented a most attractive voice, with outstanding clarity and cultivated vocal quality. His offering from the ouevres de Jacquet de la Guerre, “Coulez dans un paix profonde,” was from L’Isle de Délos , a 1715 cantata.

Catherine Cheng, soprano student of Barbara Peters, sang “Ainsi devant son maître” from the cantata Esther (1708).

A student from the studio of Stafford Wing joined in duet with still another outstanding Peters student, baritone Jonathan Rohr. Wing’s well-coached mezzo-soprano was Danielle Pecone. They sang roles of Pierrot and Nicole, respectively from Le Raccommodement comique de Pierrot et de Nicole (1715), originally performed as part of La ceinture de Vénus , a play by Alain-Rene Lesage, at the Theatre de la Foire St. Germain.

Next came two downright rowdy Provençal drinking scenes. Soprano Heidi Fisher (from Wing’s studio) performed “Entre nous mes chers amis” (1724), and sopranos Vanessa Isiguen and Melinda Whittington, both students of Rebecca Putland, sang “Suivons nos désires” (1724).

The pièce de résistance that closed the program was a collaboration of students of Rhodes and Wing, the pedagogues themselves a well-established performance team. They sang scenes from Céphale et Procris , a tragédie lyrique with a text by Joseph-François Duché de Vancy (1604). The role of Procris was shared by sopranos Katherine Hughes and Ashley Kerr (Rhodes students). The role of Céphale was played by baritone Harris Ipock (Wing).

There wasn’t a moment of boredom in this beautifully conceived recital. It is notable that the Peters studio provided four soloists; Wing’s, three; Putland’s, two; and Rhodes’, two. Exquisite baroque accompaniment on the viol was provided by Professor Brent Wissick, enhanced by Kevin Bartig, harpsichord, Cassidy Pratt, flute, Trevor Hutton, viola, and Megan Seiler, violin, according to the requirements of each solo accompaniment. The beauty of the open harpsichord lent itself to the occasion creating – or perhaps I should say completing – a stage setting. The gallery collection supported the substance of the event, offering a unique background. Just the right number of folding chairs were provided for an ample audience in the gallery.

Details of the upcoming December 5 performance of An Evening at Versailles will be posted in CVNC ‘s calendar.