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Tuesday 25 December 2012

DVD review: Castor et Pollux DVD 2008 Opus Arte

Telaire: Anna Maria Panzarella
Phebe: Véronique Gens
Cleone: Judith van Ranroij
Castor: Finnur Bjarnason
Pollux: Henk Neven
Jupiter: Nicolas Teste
High Priest: Thomas Oliemans
Mercury: Anders J Dahlin

Les Talens Lyriques
Chorus of de Nederlands Opera

Conductor: Christophe Rousset
Director: Pierre Audi
Set and Costume Designer: Patrick Kinmouth
Lighting: Jean Kalman
Choreographer: Amir Hossenpour

Castor et Pollux is one of my favourite Rameau operas - the fascinating story of brotherly love and the exciting beauty of the music make it an unusual and special piece. Unfortunately this production completely misses the mark and is in no way recommendable.

This opera is about tortured emotions, and the conflict between the desire for love and doing the right thing. Unfortunately director Pierre Audi and designer Patrick Kinmouth conspire to strip all characters of any individuality or personality to the extent where it's hard to understand what is going on or what the motivation for the character's actions are. The aesthetic is some sort of sci-fi future where both men and women are garbed almost identically in badly cut dresses, everyone has identical braided hair, and most people wear eyeliner, eyeshadow and lipgloss. Status and personality are not expressed through visual appearance. Sets look equally tacky and contrived and as so often with sci-fi are derived from a previous era of design but without its logic or coherence (in this case very vaguely Bauhaus). The only props are white cubes, and the only changes of scene are effected through lighting, usually with characters not even leaving the stage. The chorus sings from offstage throughout, and dancers act out the words.

The result is ugly, emotionally barren, dramatically turgid, confused and boring.

Musically things fare slightly better. All of the cast sing perfectly well, though there's nothing to get truly excited about here. Véronique Gens is the exception and manages to imbue her music with expression, but it's difficult to really see her as a big adversary when she's so placid like the rest of them, and dressed identically. The orchestra make a decent sound, though there's a lack of contrast in colour and timbre - Rameau's operas thrive on their exciting changes between soughing laments, energetic bombast and edgy virtuosity. Probably the orchestra is just too large to give the music the precision it needs (though a better conductor at the helm would surely help.)

Rameau was constantly revising his operas, and this performances uses the 1754 version rather than the original 1737 version. The original is a much more interesting piece, and the update cuts many of the most beautiful and original passages of the first version. Sadly this is a tendency with Rameau's revisions - to tone things down to please an ever less adventurous public.

Rameau is still a cause, and needs passionate advocacy to cement his place in the repertoire - outside of France his genius is still mostly appreciated by connoisseurs and far from widely accepted. Sadly this DVD is so boring and misguided that it will win him few new fans. Get the William Christie CD with Les Arts Florissants instead.


  1. I have tried hard with the operas of Rameau:

  2. That was another substandard production, particularly unfortunate since Rameau is such a rarity in London. I can only urge the William Christie CD that I recommend in the post which is revelatory.

  3. I know what you mean about Rameau. I got more or less turned off the French baroque (and yes, I did tend to lump anyone French pre 1800 into that category) by seeing umpteen Opera Atelier productions all of which lookeed and sounded much the same. Recently I've been revisiting Rameau in particular and loving it. Bill Christie's video recordings of Platee and les Paladins are absolutely hilarious.

  4. In my opinion, Rameau is really a class apart from any of his French contemporaries or predecessors - he really is sui generis. I will get round to watching both of those in due time. So far my love for him has arisen through recordings mainly.

  5. I'm with you--he is one of the greatest composers of all time. I am just watching this production and I'll have to disagree with you somewhat... I can really get into it, it has its own logic, and since we're dealing with myth and divinities, I don't mind that the principals are not distinct individuals with motives etc in the modern sense.

    I am just watching the Hades passage terzetto, which I think is well done, though very different from another one that I know well, having watched the clip on YT many times:

    Anyway: Vive le roi Rameau! And Happy New Year to all Ramistes.

  6. Thanks for the link - always good to see new versions! Happy New Year to you too, and always great to find another Ramiste!

    We can agree to disagree on this production. For me, the thing about myths and divinities is that surely the reason we care about them is that they are just disguised or idealised versions of ourselves - we need to be able to relate to some aspect of them, otherwise it's just dada-ist. That is the power of the Ring, or any good fantastical or scifi story - ultimately it's about how it relates to us in the present: the themes need to transcend the setting.

  7. Though the production is not exactly devoid of psychologizing. Dancers are used to illustrate the various inner conflicts and memories that the characters have. I really liked that bit too.