Go­ing for Baroque French style

A par­ody of a French opera takes the stage in Bei­jing in an on­go­ing early-mu­sic se­ries, Pang Bo re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Apar­ody of the baroque opera Hip­polyte et Aricie ( Hip­poly­tus and Ari­cia) by Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), the most im­por­tant French opera com­poser of the En­light­en­ment pe­riod, was staged on Sun­day at the For­bid­den City Con­cert Hall in Bei­jing.

The show, the sec­ond part of this year’s Early Mu­sic Sea­son, was pre­sented by the Cen­ter of Baroque Mu­sic of Ver­sailles to mark the 250th an­niver­sary of Rameau’s death.

The opera, based on clas­si­cal mythol­ogy, is about the story of Th­e­see, king of Athens, who has gone to the un­der­world in a vain at­tempt to res­cue a friend. Mean­while, in Athens, his wife Phe­dre has fallen in love with his son by a pre­vi­ous mar­riage, Hip­polyte, who him­self loves the young princess Aricie. Th­e­see re­turns only to dis­cover the tur­moil in his house­hold, and Hip­polyte is falsely ac­cused of an as­sault on Phe­dre. Th­e­see curses his son and calls on the gods for re­venge, which comes in the form of a monster that at­tacks Hip­polyte. All think Hip­polyte dead, and the queen, full of re­morse, re­veals the truth. Even­tu­ally, Hip­polyte turns out to have been mirac­u­lously res­cued by the gods, and he is re­turned to wed Aricie.

Hip­polyte et Aricie was Rameau’s first opera, though he was nearly 50 when he com­posed it. His re­work­ing of the Greek story of Phe­dre and her in­fat­u­a­tion with her step­son Hip­polyte can never quite set­tle on who and what the opera is re­ally about — is Phe­dre the cen­tral char­ac­ter, or is itHip­polyte and his lover Aricie, or even his fa­ther Th­e­see?

In this par­ody ver­sion, as love even­tu­ally wins, the tri­umph of Hip­polyte and his lover Aricie can be re­garded as an ode to pure love.

On the stage was a small pup­pet the­ater with the mu­si­cians play­ing in front of it dur­ing the show. As the frame and sides were left open, the au­di­ence could clearly see scenechanges and the work of the pup­peteers through­out the per­for­mance. The singers were sit­u­ated in front of the pup­pet stage, with Phe­dre on the left and Th­e­see on the right. Pup­peteers sang the parts of Hip­polyte and Aricie. With beau­ti­ful pup­pets con­structed, ma­nip­u­lated and dressed as they were in Rameau’s time, the par­ody tries to re­vive the spirit of the French opera.

A scene which cen­ters on the step­mother Phe­dre’s pas­sion for her step­son Hip­polyte, fol­low­ing the death of her hus­band, is an amus­ing farce, as the step­mother tries ev­ery­thing, from leap­ing onto him and rush­ing around the stage, to make Hip­polyte in­ter­ested in her. Thwarted— as Hip­polyte is faith­ful to his love with Aricie — Phe­dre flies around the stage in anger, bang­ing her head against the walls and pil­lars.

The most amus­ing scene comes when Hip­polyte goes into the coun­try­side and con­tem­plates his dilemma be­cause his fa­ther thinks he’s hav­ing an af­fair with the queen. The scene opens with an empty stage set as a pas­toral scene. A hen en­ters and clucks and pecks around the stage. Hip­polyte en­ters, com­plain­ing about his dilemma and af­ter each sen­tence, he is an­swered by the hen. The scene con­cludes with Hip­polyte rais­ing his voice, mak­ing the hen fly up in sur­prise and then drop­ping an egg onto the stage, which made the au­di­ence burst into laugh­ter.

The par­ody per­for­mance, a per­fect in­ter­ac­tion among singers, pup­peteers and mu­sic play­ers, was in French us­ing au­then­tic pro­nun­ci­a­tion, with Chi­nese sub­ti­tles dis­played on two screens on the left and right sides of the stage.

Apart from mar­velous pup­peteers and the beau­ti­ful cos­tumes of the mar­i­onettes, so­prano Marie Kali­n­ine’s Phe­dre and bari­tone Alain Buet’s Th­e­see were quite im­pres­sive.

En­sem­ble Philodor, di­rected by Mira Glodeanu, pro­vided an au­dio feast of his­tor­i­cal in­stru­ments, with two vi­o­lin play­ers, a vi­ola player, a vi­ola da gamba player, a harp­si­chord player, an oboe player and a flute player. Violinist Mira Glodeanu and vi­ola da gamba player Nils Wieboldt were most im­pres­sive as they re­pro­duced the charm of the el­e­gant baroque mu­sic. Con­tact the writer at pangbo@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

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