WORKS: Hippolyte et Aricie
PERFORMER: Lorraine Hunt, Anna Maria Panzarella, Eirian James, Mark Padmore, Laurent Naouri Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-15517-2
Rameau was fifty years old when his earliest surviving opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, was performed in Paris in 1733. For two revivals of the work, in 1742 and 1757, Rameau made substantial changes to his score, changes which, at least in part, reflect changing public taste. William Christie, in his new recording, has opted for the 1733 version, using a newly prepared performing text by the French musicologist Sylvie Bouissou.
In her introductory note Bouissou claims that her edition is the first to remain faithful to the opera as Rameau conceived it. We know that the performances did not entirely correspond with the composer’s intentions – and, without all the relevant sources to hand we must, at least for the time being, give her the benefit of any doubt.
The story of the opera derives from the famous Hippolytus of Euripides, but the libretto, by Simon-Joseph Pellegrin, stems more directly from Racine’s last tragedy, Phèdre. Notwithstanding the opera’s title, Pellegrin’s piece focuses more upon the personalities of Theseus, his wife Phaedra and their tragic destinies, determined by Phaedra’s incestuous love for her stepson, Hippolytus, than upon Hippolytus himself or his beloved Aricia.
Christie’s recording has greatly benefited from a preceding run of warmly acclaimed performances at the Palais Garnier in Paris, last September. The cast has been skilfully assembled and the principal roles are all dramatically well sustained and very well sung. Lorraine Hunt’s Phaedra is frightening and pitiful in turn; her passionate ‘Cruelle mère des amours’ (Act III/1) and the grief-stricken ‘Non, sa mort est mon seul ouvrage’ (Act IV/4) are powerfully done, while Laurent Naouri’s Theseus is authoritative and poignant. His two great monologues, ‘Ah, qu’on daigne du moins’ (Act II/4) and ‘Quels biens! Je frémis quand j’y pense’ (Act III/4), are movingly declaimed, as is Hippolytus’s heart-rending ‘Ah, faut-il, en un jour’ (Act IV/1), plaintively sung by Mark Padmore. Two moments of audacious musical originality occur in awesome, enharmonic trios sung by the Fates (Act II). Christie and his artists realise the magic in this writing with vividly imaginative gestures, thrilling to the ear.
Instrumental dances and wonderfully evocative and athletic choruses – Rameau’s score is generously endowed with both – are executed with precision and expressive finesse by the chorus and orchestra of Les Arts Florissants, setting the seal on an outstanding achievement.