French Baroque has recently been tried and tested at English National Opera, with great success and so is a welcome addition to Glyndebourne’s Live Broadcasting events, with a consuming production of ‘Hippolyte et Aricie’ by Jean-Philippe Rameu.
The prologue initiates the feud between Diana, goddess of chastity and Cupid, the God of Lusty-love, who is given free reign over the mortals one day every year. Whilst Diana’s faithful subjects continue to worship her virtue, others fall into a pit of salacious gratification. Phaededre is served up as an example of the latter, with her distasteful desire for her stepson, whom in turn is the model of virtue for his innocent love of Arcia. Phaededre’s bitterness at their coupling and her rejected love turns her mind to revenge and she falsely accuses Hippolytus of rape, to which his father, her husband, reacts by summoning Pluto to kill him. This culminates in divine powers becoming both the perpetrators and peacemakers of the universe as they become increasingly entangled in the chaos of their mortal subjects. Of course the five act play takes all sorts of tangents and the journey is anything but linear as we plummet into hell and back with Baroque consequence, and that is to say, there is none.
Director Jonathan Kent marks these tangents as part of the zany style of Baroque, with the enchantment coming from the journey and the surprise that awaits. Together with designer Paul Brown he choses to embrace these turns and the production is invigorated by this freedom and the nonchalant attitude to just ‘throw in the kitchen sink’.
Well if they don’t quite manage a sink, a ceiling high fridge features immediately as introduction to the chilling and chaste world that Diana lords over. Dressed in frosted white, Katherine Watson is a serene queen, who watches over her minions, dressed in white fur coats. Their chastity, however, is probed at from the start, as the men enter the stage through a packet of sausages, that like foam batons, swing freely to let them through in their dozens. This hint at humour, rooted in innuendo is present throughout and gives a new dimension to the play about Divine Gods and sinful mortals. It is not surprising then when Cupid breaks out of the egg, like a Dali figure, to entice Diana’s subjects, that the mood changes and the physical awkwardness between the genders is relieved in stunning poetic movement choreographed by Ashley Page.
Page’s direction breathed a modernised approach to the performance, heightened by the outlandish and colourful setting for each scene. The current of dancers that waved across the stage at any one time, really honed in on the amount of people that the production engulfs. This clash of modern and traditional was made to purposefully jar during the performance of the sailor prelude in praise of Neptune. The wave of enthusiastic sailors frustrated the plot and particularly the morbid Theseus, played by the brilliant and steady Stéphane Degout. He looked pale as he statically stood and watched, before finally dismissing them. This injection of fun in the performance, was a little less slick than the rest of the show, but gleamed youth in its silliness.
The unblinking star of the performance was Sarah Connoly who played the Romantic villain Phaededre, with a passion that dribbled like honey off her every word and agonised movement. Her pitiful character is perhaps the most easily accesible to a modern audience, who are more likely to have suffered from pangs of jealousy than divine devotion. She proves that ‘hell have no fury like a woman scorned’, which perhaps resonates with Pluto’s prophesy that Theseus may be greeted with hell at home. The most powerful scene of the performance was Phaededre soulful repentance, and as her silhouette walks off the stage towards the screen, it felt almost like she might just break through.
Watching the performance on the big screen, allows for the detail of the performance and performers to resonate much more, and Glynendale’s performances seem almost built for screen. Whilst undoubtedly you lose some of those hair-erect moments at the stunning voices that resound the hall, the ability to zoom in allows for a personal and emotive experience that cannot be compared.
The performance can still be seen online, or at some late cinema showings. Glyndebourne’s next Live broadcast is Don Pasquale August 6th. On at Norden Farm at 7.15pm. For that and future live Broadcasts visit: http://nordenfarm.org/?&tmpl=event&e_id=17442&es_dspl=0&es_title=Aug&es_str=2013-08-01