Who ruined this work of art?
Nathan Lee Koontz | Winston Salem, NC USA | 09/20/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'll tell you. It was the choreographer. He insisted on assigning each character a dancer who would double as themselves. The dancer's role was to do all the acting through the awkward and laborious dancing. This means that while the events are actually happening to the singers, they can't act out about it. This was a grave error which manifested in a tedious, monotonous staging. You don't get to see any of the rage by those that have been crossed, nor do you get to see any sort of real jealousy or insanity by the one doing the crossing. The best scene is the funeral scene with the popular aria Tristes aprez. Under the proper direction, this opera could move you to tears. I love Rameau and all his work and this production put me to sleep. I so badly wanted to like this. If this was any one's first experience with a Rameau opera they would certainly be put off. The saving grace of this production is the perfect performance by the orchestra. Get the CD instead. Forget this and buy Platee by Rameau. It's the most entertaining piece of work that I own and everyone I've shown it to agrees."
Brilliant musicicianship marred by production concepts
J. Kara Russell | Hollywood - the cinderblock Industrial cubicle | 08/30/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I love Rameau. I am giddy that I live in a time when his forgotten operas are being produced again by major companies. But I am having trouble giving this more than 3 stars.
The modern choreography is just AWFUL - with finger pointing like airplane landing signals and all dances seem to be "fight" choreography. Both of these unpleasant elements were a part of the choreography in Rameau's "Zoroastre," but only parts (same choreographer, but even worse here). In this production they take over entirely, and there is so much dance in French Opera that it makes the dances very tedious to the point of turning it off. Here we also have the men dressed like women and women dressed like men which is part of this same era trend of choreography. At least I should be thankful that at no point were they in their underwear, which also is very popular right now. UGH.
The production concept in general really got in my way for this production, too "space age" neon light tubes, architectural costumes, braided unisex hair. Just ugly, and very very monotonous for a long opera, as Rameau opera are.
Unfortunately, the recording of the singers also starts poorly (strong through most of it), so in a production where the music was absolutely the saving grace, it is also somewhat marred.
And the music IS the strength here, magnificent Direction by Christophe Rousset. This orchestra is so good, I'd be happy to hear them alone for the whole thing. The leading lady seems to be struggling a bit with some of the vocal style of this period, but the voices are, of course, top notch. The singer in the marvelous role of Pheobe is a stand out in every respect... Rameau & Lully do make the most of the jilted ladies. The choral elegie and then leading lady's solo at the midoint of Act Two are beautiful. The chorus in this production is magnificent, and seated in the pit with the orchestra.
PLEASE SOMEONE, GIVE US SOME LEGIT HISTORICAL PRODUCTIONS OF RAMEAU!!!! It is now so rare, it would be "new" and "different.""
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 08/28/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The staging of this 18th C opera seria, by De Nederlandse Opera with Pierre Audi directing, is suspiciously similar to the 10-year-old Brian Large (correction: Robert Wilson) staging of Gluck's Alceste: the same faded blue ambience, with muted red lighting; similar robes for costumes; odd squares and cubes for sets; super-stately, hieratic poses and movements. I had mixed feelings about that Alceste; in the end, only the music worked for me. Once again, it's the music that makes the show in Rameau's "Castor et Pollux", but there are good things to be said about the staging and five-star raves about the musical delivery.
First, the singers. This is an opera about men, and the legendary Twins, Castor and Pollux, are real men, both in their robust voices and in their presences. Finnur Bjarnason (Castor) dominates both physically and vocally whenever he's on stage; that's appropriate to the tale. But Henk Neven (Pollux) sings with an emotional depth that expands and ripens as his character's nobility is revealed. Basso Nicolas Teste (Jupiter) is properly severe and all-potent vocally, though his physical presence seems somewhat less than Olympian. Altogether, the three male characters are superb in their musical balance and ensemble; for once, it's obvious that rehearsal time was adequate for the production. There are also three women in the tale: Telaire, whom both brothers love; her sister Phebe, who lusts for Castor and whose sorcery sets up the tragedy; and the ambiguous Cleone, confidante of both sisters. Veronique Gens (Phebe) steals the show vocally; her voice is never strained, her ornaments are effortlessly graceful, her vocal affect is spot-perfect for the emotional load of each of her recitations. Anna Maria Panzarella (Telaire) and Judith van Wanrou (Cleone) sing very well, with rich ringing timbre; it's only in comparison with Gens that they pale slightly. One of the major virtues of this cast is that all the principals sing with the same "historically informed' vocal technique, as if they'd all studied with the same teacher. Rameau's music per se depends on such unity of ensemble for its grace, and unfortunately such generous togetherness of singers can't always be depended on. This performance would be vocally impressive on a CD also.
Then, the singers as actors. The first scenes are stiff. That's what the director called for. It's not quite as tedious as a Bayreuth production of Wagner; nobody sings while staggering backwards a foot a note. But it's scarcely engaging. Then, I think, the singers -- all of them -- begin to become engaged themselves in the meaning of their character's words and in the divine humanity they are enacting. Let's just say that they 'override' their direction and commit themselves to being who their recitations say they are. They generate a lot of drama, a lot of empathy, which builds in the final acts to a theatrical climax. One actually cares about their fates. Or to be precise, one cares about Castor and Pollux. As I said before, this is an opera about men. The most potent emotion in it is brotherly fidelity. The two brothers are united in immortality. Telaire remains on stage in this production but she's no longer relevant, and Phebe is lost somewhere in gloomy Hades.
Les Talens Lyriques, conducted by harpisichordist Christophe Rousset, play with the utmost precision and delicacy throughout. The instrumental writing in this opera seria is restrained and subordinated to the singing, but it has to be elegant, and it is. I agree with other critics that "Castor et Pollux" is Rameau's masterpiece in the genre of opera seria. It's far more than the usual French Baroque suite of arias and dances; it's a taut, coherent, complete piece of music.
Finally, back to the staging. Hmmm. It "grew" on me. Or perhaps I began to see and hear through it. My wife thought it was "beautiful" and for once I didn't have to wake her up for the last act."