Jean-Philippe Rameau's opera Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) is basically the same plot as Phèdre by Jean Racine (1677), a play that was done at my college when I was an undergraduate. This is only my second experience of a Rameau opera--the first was Platée at Santa Fe, a comedy.
Hippolytus Ed Lyon, high tenor
Aricia Christiane Karg, soprano
Phaedre Sarah Connolly, mezzo
Theseus Stéphane Degout, bass
Diana Katherine Watson, soprano
Pluto/Jupiter/Neptune François Lis, baritone
Œnone Julie Pasturaud, soprano
Cupid/A female sailor Ana Quintans, same voice type as Hippolytus but sung by a mezzo
High Priestess/Huntress Emmanuelle de Negri, soprano
Conductor William Christie
Production Jonathan Kent
"It has an extraordinary quality of meandering." Phaedre, wife of Theseus, falls in love with her step son Hippolytus who wishes to marry Aricia. This is a serious opera, filled with gods and mortals. Cupid and Diana vie for the souls of men, and Jove grants that one day a year Cupid will reign. Racine is dark and very tragic, but we are now in the high Baroque which demands its happy ending.
In this production the mortals are modern and the gods are Baroque. In the beginning Diana's servants live inside a refrigerator and proceed to prepare broccoli and cauliflower. Cupid pops out of one of the eggs. Theseus and Phaedre live in an ordinary small apartment with a fishless fish tank. Perhaps that's their fish poking their heads out of the radiator below.
Hell is the most fun. Pluto whose realm is pictured as a giant radiator is served by a variety of insects, include two spiders who perform a charming duet. We aren't sure what Theseus is doing in hell, but the change of scene is welcome.
After Phaedre kills herself, the young lovers are reunited to happy rejoicing.
Though they are contemporaries, you will not hear the wondrous variety of Handel here. If the tempo starts to pick up a bit, it must be a ballet. There are, of course, no castrati in French opera and little of the intense display of coloratura that is present in Italian opera. Perhaps we might even call this the Rococo. It is graceful, elegant and formal above all else. Rameau is pleasant but not particularly exciting.
This opera came to me via a live stream from Glyndebourne. If it is considered a success, the opera and its production may start showing up other places. Between the scenes is the head of an old bald guy staring out at us. If they make a DVD, they could think about leaving him out.
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