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Now we look forward to this performance tonight even more! Regards, Len
Review: France Once Fought Over This Opera. Juilliard Shows Us Why.
Hippolyte et Aricie
By ZACHARY WOOLFE APRIL 18, 2018
When it had its premiere in Paris in 1733, Rameau’s “Hippolyte et Aricie” set off a war in French opera. You had to choose sides: Were you an old-fogey “lulliste” — a partisan of Lully, the master composer who’d died nearly 50 years before — or a cutting-edge “ramiste”?
At the opening of a rare, ambitious and impressive production of “Hippolyte” at the Juilliard School on Tuesday — there are two more performances, on Thursday and Saturday — you got a sense of the 18th-century battle lines.
Over Lully’s darkly glittering severity, Rameau breathed Technicolor. In “Hippolyte,” his first opera but written when he was already a musical star, he stuck to the traditional French prologue-and-five-acts structure to tell the mythical story of King Theseus; his wife, Phaedra; and her catastrophic love for her stepson, Hippolytus, as told by Euripides, Seneca and Racine.
But Rameau added strange and bitter harmonies, vivacious dances, arresting evocations of wind and rain, emotional extravagance and Italian-style vocal dazzle. It was bigger than Lully, richer and more jam-packed. (And I say that as a lulliste.)
The Juilliard production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and conducted by Stephen Stubbs, captures much of the teeming spirit of this elaborate marriage of music, theater, design and dance. By now it’s no surprise — but should still be celebrated — that the school’s historical-performance program, founded not quite 10 years ago, produces work on a credibly professional level, even with singers-in-training and some instrumental hiccups.
Alex Rosen’s rich bass voice showed promise as it rode the buffets of Rameau’s arduous writing for Theseus (Thésée), whose sustained suffering in the opera feels almost a precursor of Wagner’s Tristan. Brooding without overplaying as Phaedra (Phèdre), the mezzo-soprano Natalia Kutateladze sounded dark and pointed, focused yet flexible.
As Hippolytos (Hippolyte) — a role for a high, airy tenorial so-called haute-contre — Kyle Stegall phrased with eloquence. When her voice warmed, the soprano Onadek Winan sang with lucid, floating tenderness as his love, the captive princess Aricie.
William Guanbo Su was properly menacing as Pluton, the god of the underworld, and as the goddess Diane’s chief priestess, the soprano Shaked Bar had a voice of exceptional liveliness and presence. All pointed the words with clarity and purpose, a crucial quality in French Baroque opera, which was closely aligned with spoken theater.
The pacing was sometimes a bit stolid, but the texture of the orchestra under Mr. Stubbs was crisp and spirited. Mr. Wadsworth’s staging is characteristically period-conscious, and balances the high stylization of Rameau’s time — down to the grandeur of the gestural vocabulary — with the more casual naturalism of ours.
It was, as this repertory should be, restrained without a chill. The second act, in which Thésée is stranded in the underworld, is at Juilliard simultaneously poised, savage and persuasively sexy. (And there is a DVD of Jonathan Kent’s 2013 production for the Glyndebourne Festival, set in and around a giant refrigerator, if you want something a bit more adventurous.)
While Mr. Wadsworth has been conscientious, a “Hippolyte” staging would ideally share even more of Rameau’s revolutionary, luxurious energy; Zack Winokur’s choreography is particularly bland. But the modest sets, designed by Charlie Corcoran, are genuinely elegant, a reminder of how impressive painted backdrops can be, especially when sensitively lit — as, here, by David Lander. Those backdrops conjure the neoclassical obsession with ruins, the melancholy gaze on the past by artists like Piranesi and Hubert Robert.
I seriously question the decision to cut the prologue, which establishes the opera’s stakes by setting up a battle between Love and the chaste Diane that reaches the human realm in the form of Phèdre’s mad love for Hippolyte. Instead, Mr. Wadsworth has added a short, stodgy spoken introduction contrasting the chaste Diane and the lecherous, self-satisfied Thésée; perhaps the idea is to gently tug the opera into a #MeToo-ish battle of the sexes.
This start is echoed at the end. There, the bizarre interpolation of a slow, reflective instrumental excerpt from a later Rameau opera, “Les Boréades,” accompanies a tableau of the broken Thésée and the quietly triumphant Diane.
I’m all for a reminder that the work’s happy ending is coming at the expense of a man, once powerful, who has lost everything. But this doleful conclusion doesn’t feel right for an opera that so daringly mixes tragedy and exhilaration, nor with Juilliard’s stated desire to hew closely to Rameau’s intentions.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/arts ... ic-reviews
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I know you'll enjoy it, but it is a shame they gratuitously marred it with those changes. Rameau is something I'd like to see them do at Glimmerglass or Bard (or even the Seagle Colony) when I take one my never-get-around-to-it stabs at attending one of these summer festivals.
There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach
StillGlimmerglass productions have let me down several times-we're probably not going this year-the Donizetti Siege of Calais that takes place in Aleppo we saw last year and the King For A Day Verdi from the past really let us down-a pity because I feel Verdi's work has some potential and Donizetti's work could really be a winner-the music is wonderful. Regards, Len
Rameau's operas flow nicely between recitative and melodic numbers. I remember Hippolyte especially for this trio, with the remarkable chromatic progression on the words "Tremble, frémis d'effroi". (at around the 2:05 mark in this video)
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