Classical review: Glyndebourne's Hippolyte et Aricie is a musical triumph, but the drama misfires
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, East Sussex
Monday 01 July 2013
For its belated first foray into French Baroque opera, Glyndebourne chose Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie and wisely invited William Christie to conduct.
And it seemed sensible to put the director-designer team of Jonathan Kent and Paul Brown in charge of the staging: the fantastical synthesis of song, dance, and orchestral divertissements which they had achieved with Purcell’s Fairy Queen was just what was required for Rameau’s fanciful melange. Kent’s desire to ‘reinvent Baroque opera for the 21 century’ led him to draft in as choreographer Ashley Page, the wild boy of British dance.
In this version of the Phaedra myth, the incestuous queen’s passion and punishment is set in the context of her step-son Hippolytus’s love for the virginal Aricia; meanwhile the goddess Diana defeats sexually anarchic Cupid and imposes on the world her regime of sexual restraint. This gave rise to Kent’s guiding concept: his drama would unfold in ‘cold places where the heat of passion could be frozen’.
Thus it is that the curtain rises on a giant fridge whose open door reveals giant comestibles from among which the chorus, clad in white fur, sing their initial number. Male dancers jump out from behind sausages, Diana materialises like a Louis XIV doll in the freezer compartment, and Cupid hatches out of an egg like a hyperactive chick: so far, so witty.
Musically the work progresses with great assurance. If Ana Quintans’s Cupid has a pinched tone, and Christiane Karg’s Aricia lacks the requisite vocal charm, the performances which Christie extracts from his other singers are stunning. Katherine Watson’s imperious Diana, Ed Lyon’s coltish Hippolytus, and Francois Lis’s dark-toned Pluto are all spot-on, while Emmanuelle de Negri and Mathias Vidal purvey a ravishing sweetness of sound. Sarah Connolly invests Phaedra with both grandeur and a desperately human vulnerability; Stephane Degout’s Theseus sends up prayers to Neptune in singing of transcendent beauty. The diction and phrasing is perfectly idiomatic; the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is on top form.
Yet gradually, inexorably, the show comes unstuck. Page’s inept, cliché-ridden choreography founders in screaming campery, while the Kent-Brown concept undermines the spirit of the work. The fridge idea works brilliantly for Hades, but presenting Diana’s ‘innocent’ domain as a blood-boltered abattoir - and delivering the finale in a morgue with a realistically-hanged Cupid descending from the skies - travesties Rameau beyond redemption. And why equate sexual moderation with death?
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 4 The top 50 cities for young people to live in
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous Six: Make-up 'used to darken skin of actors to make them look Native American'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils