Dardanus by Jean-Philippe Rameau directed by Raphael Pichon

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Rameau
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Rameau
WORKS: Dardanus
PERFORMER: Karina Gauvin, Gaëlle Arquez, Reinoud van Mechelen, Florian Sempey, Nahuel di Pierro, Katherine Watson; Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon; dir. Michel Fau (Bordeaux, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: HMD 9859051-52  

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In its day, the excessive use of magic and the rather ludicrous plot of Rameau’s Dardanus attracted a fair amount of disapproval, prompting the composer to extensive revisions. However, the original 1739 version contains some of his finest operatic music and luckily it is this version, with a few later revisions, presented here. If the plot, based on the tribulations and eventual union of Iphise and Dardanus, seems a touch inconsequential, there are plenty of opportunities for music of noble sentiment, dazzling conjuration and grand set pieces.

Gaëlle Arquez as Iphise delivers her moving monologues at the starts of the first and third acts with dramatic intensity matched by great beauty of tone. In the title role Reinoud van Mechelen rises splendidly to his major dramatic interventions and Florian Sempey as his rival Antenor is commanding and resonant. Michael Fau’s production, with effective use of gesture and dance, and Emanuel Charles’s highly coloured, stately sets make for a very handsome visual presentation. Nevertheless, more interaction between the characters would have benefited the drama, and more flexible stage action would have greatly improved the slaying of the sea monster. Pygmalion provides vigorous and expert orchestral accompaniment, and Raphaël Pichon’s assured direction secures superb coordination with the soloists and the firmly focused chorus. A fuller synopsis of the convoluted plot would have been helpful, but the lively ‘behind the scenes’ documentary offered on the Blu-ray disc throws valuable light on the two directors’ approach to the music and drama.

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Jan Smaczny