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Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie (DVD)

Reinoud van Mechelen, Elsa Benoit, Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo, Stéphane Degout, Lea Desandre; Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon (Naxos / DVD)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Rameau
Hippolyte et Aricie (DVD)
Reinoud van Mechelen, Elsa Benoit, Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo, Stéphane Degout, Lea Desandre; Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon; dir. Jeanne Candel (Paris, 2020)
Naxos 2.110707   140 mins

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Here’s a captivating, glorious performance, complemented by Jeanne Candel’s cheeky yet sensitive stage direction brought home through innovative cinematography. Such collective effort is needed to navigate Rameau’s first-ever opera, which piles one densely composed scene on top of another, as Hippolyte’s union with Aricie is thwarted by his step-mother Phèdre, herself in love with Hippolyte, while Phèdre’s husband Thésée is off visiting the Underworld.

The principals embody the drama played out by their characters. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo’s raw power as Phèdre in Act I collapses to a whispered vulnerability in her Act III confession. Elsa Benoit’s Aricie pivots from radiant arioso to dark brooding, with gorgeous new vocal colours, to lament Hippolyte’s apparent death. Reinould van Mechelen’s Hippolyte damps down his desire until the flaming lyricism of his Act IV monologue. But it is mezzo soprano Lea Desandre, in four different roles, who shines brightest. In the daring soft-coloratura pastoral air with which Rameau closed the opera, Desandre ascends with apparent ease into the stratosphere.

Raphaël Pichon aids plot coherence by joining up solo verse lines in unexpected ways and licensing instrumental interventions in the action. Handheld cameras bring out the wit of Candel’s staging which brings out a sublime ingenuity in Rameau that’s too often obscured.

Berta Joncus

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