In the NAXOS DVD of the 2020 Opera Comique production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s tragedie-lyrique Hyppolite et Aricie the staging is at odds with the often sublimely beautiful music of the enlightened French Enlightenment 18th century composer.

Rameau’s music is all balance of thought and feeling, aesthetic symmetry, elegant restraint, and concealment of artfulness all for the sake of artistry, and in this production, Raphael Pichon’s leadership of the Pygmalion orchestra and chorus is, all well and good, superbly idiomatic.  

In contradictory and confusing contrast, the staging of Jeanne Candel and Lionel Gonzalez, and the sets by Lisa Navarro and costumes by Pauline Kieffer are all about European Regietheater in which more is less. That is too bad, because a superb French cast of Baroque specialists does great justice to Rameau’s music as it works against the untidy stage direction, the come-as you-are costumes, and the just plain silly scenery.

For those not up on Greek mythology, the story is about the love between Hyppolite (the escellent tenor, Reinoud von Mechelen) and Aricie (the lovely and very pregnant soprano Elsa Benoit) – a passion which ultimately either unconsummated or merely preserved for all eternity in a magical garden of delights (paradise?) well out of the reach of Hyppolite’s vengeful father, King Theseus (the superb baritone Stephane Dregout) and Phedre, Hyppolite’s lustful stepmother (the fine mezzo-soprano Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo).

While deities and demons and worshippers and priestesses at the Temple of the goddess Dianne do their divine or devilish or mortal best and worst to derail the inevitable triumph of love over all obstacles earthly and otherwise, though all to no avail, the soloists sing up storm against the adverse tide of Fate.

I do not advocate for bringing back the sort of reverentially stodgy productions that many of us endured in our salad days, when the MET and other American opera companies and music conservatories first began to explore the yet-to-be-discovered riches of the 17th and 18th century lyric stage.

And yet I would much rather prefer not to watch stagings of Rameau and Lully and Handel and Monteverdi in which the proliferation of post-modern theatrical clichés overwhelms the music and trips up the singers.

Therefore and in the meantime and while a happy marriage of good music-making and reasonably intelligent staging is arrived at, I will content myself with listening to the music.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS