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Rameau Operas - boxed bargain set


plus Motet IL CONVETENDO and chamber music

Casts include:
Paul Agnew
Barbara Bonney
Anders J Dahlin
Sophie Daneman
Veronique Gens
Topi Lehtipuu
Laurent Naouri
Danielle de Niese
Anna Maria Panzarella
Nicolas Rivenq

Dance ensembles include:
La LaLa
Human Steps

Orchestras include:
Les Talens Lyriques
Les Arts florissants
Opéra national de Paris
The Drottningholm Theatre Orchestra

Conductors include:
William Christie
Christophe Rouset

Opus Arte DVDs OA 1052 D [10 DVDs, c. £40]

It has been a pleasure to revisit Rameau's operas in these splendid versions, now available as a bargain collection - one not to be missed.

Les Indes Galantes, a loveable farrago of rivalry for womens' love in four exotic locations, was filmed live at the Paris Opera, and is a gloriously exuberant recreation of Jean-Philippe Rameau's most popular work which enjoyed over 300 performances in the 18C.

Les Paladins, presented in Paris in 1760, was conceived as a piece of light entertainment; the work of an old man, Rameau well into his 70's. This immensely pleasurable new version incorporates video projection and multimedia techniques without sacrificing any of its essentially baroque style.

Platée is a comic opera, "anti-spectacular" in this version, the performers inebriated in homage to Bacchus, with jokes which wear thin, detracting from the effect of the singing, which is acceptable to good. Paul Agnew as an eponymous lonely lady frog [R] sings beautifully, pathetic in his incomprehension, furious and vengeful when he realises he has fallen for an elaborate practical joke culminating in mock marriage. By the end we were glad that we had watched it through, with steadily mounting interest and enjoyment in the second half as we gradually began to appreciate what the production team was on about.This is one for Rameau enthusiasts unfazed by gross anachronism that tends to distance the music, which is notable for its inventive orchestration.

Les Boréades languished unseen for more than 200 years before resurfacing. Paul Agnew, pleased to be a man again, is ideally cast as Abaris, 'a fellow of no known rank', who takes us through all the moods of hope, despair and eventual delight; he is a master of the French haute contre style. Filmed at the Palais Garnier in Paris there are many memorable stage pictures of the changing seasons - a fund of inventiveness which accords well with the innovative music and is better seen than described. I rate this DVD of Les Boréades very highly.

Pierre Audi's concept for Castor & Pollux, with choreography of Amir Hosseinpour parallelling the vocal action, may be divisive. We loved it; it is though far from a straightforward realisation of the score and (unusally) I do recommend seeing the concept discussed in an Extra beforehand, or after the first Act. There may be longueurs, but taken an Act at a time at home one has the great advantage of close up viewing of the costuming and stage movements. The filming is magnificent but never distracting; Rameau's music, with often breathtakingly original orchestration, wins the day, with arias which rise to the heights of key moments in the tragedy of protagonists locked in complex interrelationships.

Zoroastre was centuries ahead of its time, with 18th century audiences accustomed to tales of classical antiquity set in idyllic landscapes peopled by nymphs and shepherds. In this production (Christophe Rousset & Pierre Audi) we can almost witness it through their eyes in the contemporary surroundings of Drottingholm's carefully preserved theatre. Dance elements are cleverly blended in, with much use of ritualistic hand gestures. The period costumes are just right and all is illuminated with a golden glow like candlelight. The interesting documentary is well worth watching first.

Peter Grahame Woolf