Superb multi-media hip-hop Baroque Opera that rocks...really
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 01/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Baroque that rocks! is the title of a documentary film by Reiner E. Moritz that accompanies this Opus Arte DVD production of Jean-Philippe Rameau's (1683-1764) penultimate masterwork Les Paladins, inspired by a fable by La Fontaine. Described as a Comedie lyrique in three acts and composed in 1760 when Rameau was 77, it blended reality and the surreal even before director Jose Montalvo and choreographers Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu began their efforts to bring this Baroque masterpiece before a 21st Century audience. Watching this ingenious blend of 18th Century French Opera and ultramodern technology, dancing, multi-screen films and imaginative staging is like wandering through a wormhole in spacetime. All times between are bypassed and only those slivers of spacetime that correspond to 1760 and the present - the entrance and exit points through this artistic portal - are allowed to coexist. And coexist they do; modern dance, film and a plethora of strange activity reflect or comment upon what occurs on stage. One inhabits two worlds simultaneously and it takes some getting used to. Dancers utilize old school breakdancing, hip-hop, West Indian, African and urban street moves, all superbly choreographed by Ms. Hervieu. Multiple screens doubling as multiple stage doors present a profusion of films frequently incorporating stage performers so that they interact with their virtual selves and others; they are constantly morphing into animals, birds, butterflies and statuary of various shapes and sizes. Balloons float across the stage as props, a trampoline is utilized as an apt metaphor for love's flight. Castles and gardens appear and disappear as needed via film and image projections. And all this time, like a heart that refuses to falter, a magnificent Opera persists onstage and in the pit, sublimely played and gorgeously sung.
Words alone cannot describe the visual dimension of this wondrously realized production. However, the predominantly youthful singing and dancing stars of this Opera, filmed live in May 2004 at the Theatre du Chatelet Paris, are ultimately the real reason for its success. They are wonderful, providing talent and energy in abundance. The plot of Les Paladins revolves around love. The old Anselme loves (and imprisons) the young Argie who loves the young Atis. The various struggles to requite love (including a maid Nerine and a gaoler named Orcan) make up the bulk of the story. Thankfully, an illustrated synopsis on the first disc is quite helpful in explaining what's what. Handsome Topi Lehtipuu as Atis is marvelous with a beautiful lyric tenor voice, perfectly trained for Baroque Opera. His tone and diction are crystalline. He can act and he can dance, too. All of the cast are required to dance as well as act their roles. Beautiful Stephanie d'Oustrac plays Argie. Hers is a lyric soprano voice that matches her statuesque Gallic beauty. She spends most of the Opera wandering around in shorts and knee-stockings looking sexy and sad. Orcan is Laurent Naouri and Nerine is Sandrine Piau. All the singers and dancers (and there must be more than 60) are excellent.
William Christie is a master of the French Baroque. Conducting his period instruments group Les Arts Florissants, he brings Rameau's deliberately shocking score to life. It is suggested that Rameau, at 77 years of age and with several successful Operas on his resume, wanted to create a splash following the notorious "War of the Buffons" that had roiled Parisian musical life the previous two years. He unleashes a fireworks display of musical ideas: every instrumental trick he knew (and he knew plenty), strange, abrupt meter changes, odd sounds and even extensive parodies of himself. His score is pristine and coarse by turns. Rhythmical in the extreme, Les Paladins is definitely unthinkable without extensive dancing. Debates about the nature of this production may be answered by the evidence provided by it's artistic success. It works.
This opera contains some nudity, most of it very discrete. Be forewarned if nudity is a problem. I am opposed to the gratuitous use of nudity but here it is integral to the plot and the larger design of the work. The film is in color and shot in 16/9 anamorphic widescreen. It is crystal clear. Sound is both LPCM stereo and 5.0 DTS Digital Surround (there is no separate subwoofer track). On higher-end A/V systems there is a significant difference between the two, with DTS providing greater presence, a larger illusion of space in the soundfield and a sense of "liveness" I have found in none of the other formats (including Dolby 5.1). Lower-end systems may not reveal much difference. The sound on this DVD enhances the "live" nature of the program. There are 2 discs and their playing time is 204 minutes. The region code is NTSC all regions. Menus are in English, French and German and there are the usual 5 subtitle languages. Extras include the Illustrated Synopsis, a Cast Gallery and the documentary "Baroque that rocks!". There is an excellent 36 page booklet in English, French and German that contains superb notes including the original story by La Fontaine.
This is a superb DVD and I strongly recommend it to open-minded lovers of Baroque Opera.
Plaza Marcelino | Caracas Venezuela | 09/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first got to know this production when it was shown over cable and satellite TV all over Latin America on the Film & Arts network. Upon learning it had been released by BBC Opus Arte, I immediately ordered it from Amazon US. Unfortunately, the two copies of this two-disc set I have received from Amazon so far have proven to be defective, as in the second disc the image freezes soon after the third act begins, and remains so thereonwards; the supplementary material, a 40-minute "making of" film by Rainer Moritz with interviews of the participants, cannot be accessed. From reviews from others in this website I gather these problems may appear to affect only a particular production batch from which came my two copies; a strange indeed event given the source, but any way I thought it should be reported.
The production is great fun but requires to be approached with an open mind. Perhaps construeable as a statement against the turning of baroque opera into a museum item (its "museum-isation" if such a term may be coined), it makes ample and clever usage of video images and sequences projected onto the stage's background (no sets, just a screen with several slits, openings from which dancers or singers may pop in or opt out), for the many dance interludes the score calls for 18th century approaches are altogether eschewed and replaced for capoeira-like steps or brake-dance by a troupe of dancers from suburban Paris comprised by youngsters from most cultural and racial backgrounds such a metropolis may offer, allowing for a handsome and atractive constellation of people. All in all, great fun, supported by some of the best baroque singers, young or more mature alike, France has to offer, and by that master guru of french baroque opera, the American William Christie and his wonderful band of players in the pit. Admirers of Stephanie d'Oustrac will have ample oportunity of admiring not only her outstanding singing but also her endless and shapely legs.
Again, if you won't frown before an attempt at pulling 18th century works into a contemporary setting, the set is unmissable, if you prefer your french 18th century operas peopled with singers and dancers in long coats, powdered wigs and feathered hats in Versaillesque settings, with actual gavotte steps, don't bother looking into this release.
The score has some of Rameau's most appealing music and the audience present at the Paris Châtelet theatre during the 2004 performances when the set was recorded, do sound as if they were indeed enjoying it throughout."
Amazing and rewarding!
Steven Guy | Croydon, South Australia | 08/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I read a number of reviews of this recording before buying it. I had a few trepidations about this one. I was warned that it was a "Hip-Hop" interpretation of Rameau. This didn't bother me, I know that William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants rarely put a foot wrong in this sort of thing. The visual aspect of the opera may be unusual, but the singing and the music will always be perfect or nearly perfect under the baton of monsieur Christie. I previously bought the Les Arts Florissants DVD recordings of Les Indes Galantes and Les Boréades - both are excellent, albeit, very different from each other. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of Les Paladins.
I am pleased to report that this is a splendid, joyful and imaginative interpretation of this somewhat anarchic opera. Who could believe that a man in his 70s could compose such a youthful and alive opera?
The staging is unique and very effective - I wish I'd seen it at the opera house. The cast is superb - Laurent Naouri (Orcan) is always wonderful and his sense of comic timing is perfect, he brings many fine things to any production in which he is involved. Topi Lehtipuu is new to me. He is very handsome and effecting as Atis. I imagine many women will enjoy hearing and seeing this young man! Stéphanie d'Oustrac (Argie) is another singer unfamiliar to me and I was very impressed with her singing, acting and dancing (although she doesn't do much of that). She is very pretty and rather exotic - she looks great in hot pants! ;-)) Sandrine Piau is Nérine and she is just about my favourite French female singer, after Patricia Petibon. Like Mademoiselle Petibon, Sandrine Piau has a great vocal instrument for Baroque music AND a great sense of comedy and a "wide screen" personality, to boot! Even in small parts (the role of Nérine isn't minor in any way), Sandrine Piau brings so much to the role that one cannot take one's eyes off her. Her singing, as always, is simply divine.
The music of this opera is always colourful and just a little strange - just as Rameau seemed to like it the older he got. The opera is something of a "send up" of a Rameau opera - by the composer himself. The opera was a flop when it was performed in Rameau's time. I dare say that the audience didn't enjoy or "grok" the absurd "Monty-Pythonesque" nature of this opera. Fortunately for us, we can buy DVDs like this one and take our time learning about, getting to know and enjoying this opera.
I only hope William Christie has a few more DVDs in him before he retires. I'd love to be able to buy DVD recordings of Les Arts Florissants' productions of Rameau's "Hippolyte et Aricie", "Dardanus", "Platée" and "Castor et Pollux". Please, pretty please with sugar on it!? "
Dr. John W. Rippon | Florida | 09/08/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
""Baroque opera that Rocks!" No! I say: A Travesty! By the looks of the other reviews of Las Paladins it appears that I am in a decided minority. Only one other reviewer of the eleven faulted this production saying that if Rameau were not dead he would certainly "sue the producers" here for this desecration of his score. I quite agree. To me the thing I love most in opera is the magic of entering into another world. To leave the tangled, tortured world I live in and be transported to a fictional world of adventure or beauty or tragedy far removed from where I am now. I do not want to be besieged by the mediocraty that emanates from MTV, American Idol or the dozens and dozens of other programs thet clutter radio, T.V. and movies. If that's your thing then watch it and leave Baroque opera alone. I don't want to watch break dancing, hip hop or other senseless acrobatics. In Rameau I want to enter into the world of Baroque music and appreciate it's artificialities and it's charms. The DVDs of Les Boreades and Les Indes Galantes do this beautifully. Sometimes touches of modernity work very well in the fragile world od Baroque opera. Rameau's Zoroastre in the treatment of Rousset is an example as is Vivaldi's Ercole Su'l Termodente staged by John Pascoe. But in Les Paladins the treatment is so extreme that I shut off the video and just listen to the beauty of the music masterfully rendered by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. This is the same criticism I had for the Platee production of Laurent Pelly. The music and music making are great and beautifully done but the production (here by Jose Montalvo)has lost all contact with the composer and the period in which the composition was written. Oh well, just another "eurotrash" melange. Listen but don't watch."
Very entertaining !
Robert Wolovitz | New York, NY | 07/13/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is like the Cirque du Soleil of the opera world. Extremely entertaining and one of the most beautiful artistic experiences. A must !"