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A harmonious meeting of spectacle and scene,
This review is from: Rameau: Hippolyte Et Aricie [Blu-ray]  [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie can often feel like a rather dry and academic work of Baroque opera but William Christie and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment present a delightful and lively account of the work at Glyndebourne that shows that the elegant rhythms and melodies of the work can actually be sensitive, expressive, witty, thoughtful and movingly tragic. The 2013 Glyndebourne production also recognises that entertainment also plays a vital role in the presentation of Baroque opera and it's hard to imagine anything quite so spectacular as Paul Brown's designs for this production directed by Jonathan Kent.
Quite why it seems to take place inside and behind a giant fridge may be hard to fathom and likely to come as a bit of a shock to the bewildered viewer. It's at least appropriate to characterise the icy detachment of the goddess Diana by confining her to the ice-box, while a fiery Cupid, whose influence is to cause such havoc to Diana's followers and worshippers, hatches out of an egg - but what on earth are the gods doing in a freezer in the first place and why is Hell depicted in the gunk at the back of the fridge? Well, in addition to being a classical text, Hippolyte et Aricie is very much a domestic drama. This doesn't always translate perfectly, Neptune's grand entrance not exactly the kind of spectacle it ought to be, taking place in the fish tank of Theseus and Phaedre's tastefully-decorated suburban semi-detached, but it's visually impressive in its own way.
The harmony of the universe has been disturbed by the dispute of the Gods and by the influence of Cupid, and as an opera, in its structure and in its musical arrangements as well as in its subject, Hippolyte et Aricie operates very much on this notion of harmony and the balancing of elements. Rameau - as academic a composer as he might be - makes the case not only structurally and harmonically, but with a sensibility for the beauty of imperfect humans aspiring to be gods. William Christie fully explores all the melodic and harmonic richness of what Rameau expresses so brilliantly in the musical arrangements, but also balances this with the requirements of the singing. Spectacle ("le merveilleux") and entertainment ("divertissement") are other factors that count towards this balance and harmony of all the elements, and that's all there even in the gorgeous but dramatically pointless ballet interludes and in the big and smaller details of the production design.
If the strangeness of the Baroque elements, the dances and the production design don't always fully sustain the interpretation, the singing performances are strong enough to make up for the lack of drive in the latter half of the work. Stéphane Degout is an excellent, richly-voiced Theseus, but it's Sarah Connolly who makes the biggest impression as a simply stunning Phaedre. In addition to being merely a formidable presence, Connolly's performance - alongside Christie's arrangements - also manage to elicit some sympathy for her character's predicament. As Hippolytus, Ed Lyons is perfect for the intentions of this production, his voice delicate but also strong enough to be capable of matching and standing up to Connolly/Phaedra. If he was weaker, this wouldn't work half as well. Christiane Karg however just didn't work for me as Aricie. It can be somewhat of a bland role, but Karg didn't really have anything to enliven it here.
On Blu-ray, this Hippolyte et Aricie looks and sounds every bit as spectacular as the production itself, with a bold colourful video transfer of the performance and crystal clear sound mixes in LPCM 2.0 and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1. Aside from the Cast Gallery, there's only one extra feature on the disc, a fifteen-minute making of that covers all aspects of the production, interviewing Christie and Kent, but takes a particular interest into Paul Brown's unusual costume and set designs. The disc is BD50, region-free, with subtitles in English, French, German and Korean.