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14.3.09

New 'Hippolyte' in Toulouse


Hippolyte et Aricie, Théâtre du Capitole, directed by Ivan Alexandre, photo by Patrice Nin
Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie is one of those operas I just love, and two splendid recordings -- Les Arts Florissants and Les Musiciens du Louvre -- do not make me think that another recording would not also be worth hearing. Judging by the reviews of this new production of the opera at the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse, with Baroque-style costumes and sets, dare I hope that a new DVD will cross my desk soon? The instrumental portion of the performance was provided by Emmanuelle Haïm and her excellent HIP ensemble, Le Concert d'Astrée, and having loved her recording of Dido and Aeneas and many other discs, I suspect this would be excellent. The critics were impressed, beginning with Frances Carlin (Hippolyte et Aricie, Theatre du Capitole, Toulouse, March 10) in the Financial Times:
[T]here is clearly room for authenticity, in spite of its museum overtones, if it looks as fine as this. And the names you will remember from the production team are, first, the set designer, Antoine Fontaine – for his eye-bath sets of painted flats, which exploit a keen sense of trompe l’oeil perspective, imaginative use of fabrics (the sea monster that gobbles up Hippolytus), and a memorable tunnel vision of Hades – and, second, Jean-Daniel Vuillermoz for his gorgeously embroidered pastel costumes. This production, in fact, looks so lavish you wonder if the Capitole hasn’t managed to hack into the Tarp scheme. Emmanuelle Haïm conducts her Concert d’Astrée band with vigour and precision but could be more indulgent with Rameau’s thrilling innovations. [...] Allyson McHardy’s fiery Phaedra – trim mezzo muscle, steady line and mastery of French declamation – is a revelation that rivals Jessye Norman and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in the same role.
Eric Dahan (Un «Hippolyte et Aricie» baroque et hypnotique, March 10) for Libération (my translation):
A deserter from [William] Christie's Les Arts Florissants before founding her Concert d’Astrée, in 2000, the harpsichordist and conductor Emmanuelle Haïm directs her own ensemble on period instruments, always impressive in true intonation, instrumental virtuosity, and verve. The downside of her dancing and nervous beat, chiseling details and articulations, is a lack of contrasts and tenderness, a certain uniformity of approach that sometimes put signers and chorus out of alignment. [...] The Phèdre of the American mezzo Allyson McHardy was gripping in temperament and projection, with a vigorous and heady timbre. Jennifer Holloway, another American mezzo, was a charming Diane.
Marie-Aude Roux (Raffinement extrême pour "Hippolyte et Aricie", March 10) in Le Monde (my translation):
Who is [director] Ivan Alexandre? A refugee from music criticsm? Renegade of musicology? Both, to be sure. The name of this Frenchman, born in 1960, is still unknown in the opera world, although Hippolyte et Aricie is his second production, after Handel's Rodelinda in Buenos Aires in June 2007. But he is familiar to music-loving readers of Le Nouvel Observateur and the magazine Diapason, where Ivan Alexandre wrote columns with a sharp-edged pen and made a name as a specialist in Baroque repertoire. [...] Vocally, this Hippolyte is also alluring: the Thésée of [baritone] Stéphane Degout, masterful in nobility and intensity, the incandescent Phèdre of American mezzo Allyson McHardy (a revelation).
Christian Merlin (Le Capitole fête Rameau dans toute sa splendeur, March 9) for Le Figaro (my translation):
After all, François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol were film critics before they became directors! Why should a music critic not become an opera director? In Le Nouvel observateur and Diapason for a quarter-century, Ivan Alexandre has picked apart the masterpieces of music drama with an intelligence that surely must have made him want one day to give it a try himself. After a first attempt in Argentina, here is his debut in France, in the Baroque repertory that he loves so much. A worrisome situation for a critic charge with evaluating the work of a former colleague: what to do if it is a failure? The world of criticism is filled with failed artists!
Many are hoping that Nicolas Joël, departing director of the Capitole, will bring this production with him to Paris when he takes over from Gerard Mortier in the fall. Calling Charles MacKay at Santa Fe Opera -- don't you want to be the first to bring one of his productions to the United States?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I saw recently another outstanding production at Théâtre du Capitole: that of Enescu's Oedipe - which in fact opened the season. I also hope that Nicolas Joël, who directed Oedipe, will also bring the opera to Paris. It was, judging after the press releases, one of his biggest triumphs at the Capitole - and yes, it was THAT good.