A recent visit to The Metropolitan Museum in New York City introduced me to Juan de Pareja (1606-1670) an Afro-Hispanic painter enslaved by renowned artist Diego Velazquez (1599-1660); Juan, freed in 1650, remarkably talented, was hidden in the shadows of Velazquez until his portrait by said artist was displayed in 1650.
“Chevalier” is another example, manifesting “color” has no parameters when it comes to prodigy. Joseph Bologne (1745-1799) son of an African slave and a French plantation owner is a violinist and composer of extraordinary aptitude, outdistancing his paler contemporaries in prerevolutionary Paris; he is a champion fencer and a favorite of Queen Marie Antoinette. Kevin Harrison Jr. as Chevalier de Saint-Georges is passable as an atypical outlier, succumbing to the exclusiveness of his notoriety and horrifically disappointed when he is toppled from his pedestal. Lucy Boynton is a legitimate Marie Antoinette, narcissistic, and totally obtuse to the populace she has alienated by the expectations defined by her royal status. Samantha Weaving is worth the “watch” as Chevalier’s lover and star of his opera “Ernestine”: svelte, ravishing, irresistible, she reigns with her every filmic moment.
Directed by Stephen Williams with music by contemporary composers Kris Bowers and Michael Abels, infused with compositions by Joseph Bologne (in his lifetime overshadowed by Mozart); in retrospect viewed as the first composer of African descent and lauded by the French in a time when slavery was a given state. Truly an outstanding tribute to a “colorful” genius long overdue.
THREE & ½ STARS