I’m clearly not the target demographic for this video release. Filmed at Glyndebourne – where ticket prices (and availability) are out of my reach - this production of Rameau’s great opera is clearly for a certain type of opera fan who is interested in excess, not coherence. Musically, the work is impeccable, with William Christie at the helm of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, providing the impetus for an energetic production. Visually, that’s another story.
The opera opens in a refrigerator filled with French foods: cassoulet, sausages, a tube of what looks to be harisa and so on. The soloists are on the top shelves and the chorus is down below. Shortly thereafter it shifts to what looks like an abattoir with dead bucks hanging from on high. Later, we see the back of the refrigerator – hell – and then, the refrigerator is furnished and turns into an apartment house, where, among other things, there are bright pink lights and sailors in shorts dancing. The final act takes place in a morgue. That’s a lot of different sets, different tones and colors.
That’s what irks me about this production. The faux campiness - the desire to make everything different. I can imagine the director thinking “Oh, it would be so cool
to do this”. All contribute to making this a distraction rather than being part of the story. There’s too much going on, too much changing, there is so much “meta” that the opera itself is drowned by hipness.
On the other hand, the cast, chorus and orchestra are impeccable. Rameau’s music makes liberal use of the chorus and the Glyndebourne Chorus shines here, with a beautifully homogeneous sound. The dances are interesting but often unrelated to the overall production or what is happening during a specific scene. Also, let’s not forget the excellent soloists. Ed Lyon, Christiane Karg, Sarah Connolly and Stéphane Degout are all top-notch, and the rest of the singers well above average. That said, it’s so easy to get distracted by the busy directorial choices that one can forget the music.
While many people did like this production, it was not universally appreciated. The impeccable quality of the music is at odds with the scattershot direction. We know that baroque operas were, in their time, quite extravagant, and perhaps this way of producing this opera fits that logic. However it’s hard to appreciate an opera that is so visually overwhelming — often at odds with the music. An audio recording of this would be excellent; the visuals are too random, too detached from the music, to make me want to watch this again.
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville