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CD: Crotchet


Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
Castor et Pollux - opera in five acts
Anna Maria Panzarella (soprano) - Télaïre
Véronique Gens (mezzo) - Phébé
Judith van Wanroij (soprano) - Cléone
Finnur Bjarnason (tenor) - Castor
Henk Neven (baritone) - Pollux
Nicolas Testé (bass) - Jupiter
Thomas Oliemans (baritone) - High Priest
Anders J. Dahlin (tenor) - Mercury
Chorus of the Netherland Opera/Martin Wright
Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset
rec. live, Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, 21, 25 January 2008
Notes by Reiner E. Moritz. 2 DVD set
OPUS ARTE OA0999D [62:03+72:17]
Experience Classicsonline

Castor et Pollux was Rameau’s third opera, written at the age of 54, and made his name in Paris as an opera composer. Seventeen years after its premiere he drastically revised it, dropping the prologue, and creating a whole new first act, which basically alters the entire plot. Elements of the third and fourth acts were also greatly changed. Since then each version has had its partisans, but most critics seem to agree that the work, in whatever version, is one of his greatest, if not his masterpiece.
In this DVD the 1754 revised version is used. Castor and Pollux are brothers, but only Pollux is immortal. Both love Télaïre, but she is only interested in Castor. The latter is slain in battle and Pollux offers to take his place in the underworld. After much debate over the two brothers’ destinies, Zeus intervenes and makes both brothers immortal, placing them in the Zodiac as the constellation Gemini where they achieve yet another type of immortality.
The standout in the cast is actually not one of the most prominently featured singers. In his role as an Athlete singing the aria Éclatez, fière trompettes Anders J. Dohlin vocally and physically commands the stage. Unfortunately, this is at the end of Act 2. Henk Neven as Pollux is a better actor than singer, but as such he is intensely affecting, especially in Acts 3 and 5. His singing of Ma voix, puissant maître du monde was fine. Finnur Bjarnson I found less impressive in both regards, although his singing with Anna Maria Panzera in the last act is quite good. Ms. Panzera herself handles the famous aria Tristes apprêts with great ability and her duet with Phebe immediately afterward is equally good. As a great admirer of Véronique Gens I could only wish there were a little more for her to do in the first act, but her acting and singing with Panzera in Act 2 is incredibly intense. Her big moment is in Act 4 when she leads her forces into hell to rescue Castor. Nicholas Testé is a solid if not awe-inspiring Jupiter.
The staging for the opera is rather unusual in that it consists only of geometric shapes, but strikingly lit (by Jean Kalman) while the costumes are extremely elaborate. However, I found the latter very distracting; they looked neither eighteenth nor twenty-first century, but rather like something out of a bad science-fiction movie. I also don’t think that every character in an opera needs to have dreadlocks. However, the worst parts for me were the important dance episodes. These were in that jerky, almost psychotic style so beloved of many Continental choreographers nowadays. They not only don’t fit the music, but detract from the flow of the drama. Call me old–fashioned.
Music Director Christopher Rousset and Stage Director Pierre Audi both do a creditable if not always inspired job of keeping the music and drama flowing, although Audi has his moments. Les Talens Lyriques, however, play very expressively and have a real command of the idiom. The Netherlands Opera Chorus is good too, in fact, often uplifting. Although this is a production originally for television I found that the cameras were frequently too far away from the action for dramatic purposes and that the venue produced a hollow sound which hampered the orchestra, although not the singing.
As is usual with Opus Arte productions, there is an illustrated cast-list, synopsis and a documentary describing the creation of the production. While there are musically more distinguished versions of Castor et Pollux available on CD, this is the only DVD version at present. Purchasers will have to make their choice of which version to obtain based on these considerations.
William Kreindler


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