I’ve only managed to see this DVD now (the likely final straw – two opera bloggers, JohnG and Capriccio, recently reviewed it and reminded me of it). I avoided it due to its almost-monochromatism and the austere geometric set. How I was wrong.
This production and this work offer so much food for thought. The director Pierre Audi placed the mythical piece (fittingly) in the a-temporal setting. The hair, as the designer explains in the bonus documentary, was inspired by the representation of divinities that we can observe on the Ancient Greek pottery, but both hair and the costumes will to the present-day viewer look a touch Sci-Fi. And that is just fine: the Sci-Fi for us today is a sphere of myth and foundational stories and first questions. Do Star Trek and Star Wars and Alien and Blade Runner signify for us today the way Greek mythology signified in Rameau’s time? A question worth examining, and this C&P does it, though sideways, through the design.
More importantly, the Audi C&P blasts open for everybody to see what the work is ultimately about: becoming a human alas also means you have to shoe-horn yourself into one gender and with it, into romantic love, whatever the hegemonic models of it are in your epoch.
Although the tale begins as a familiar love triangle, only doubled (Télaïre and Phébée love Castor; Castor and Pollux both love Télaïre), it ends with two brothers choosing Hades over a happily-ever-after with Télaïre in this world. Big chunk of the latter part is a debate between the brothers over who gets to go back to being human, and why that’s not such a good idea. They get awarded by Jupiter for their willingness to sacrifice by becoming part of the cosmos, the constellation Gemini.
But wait. Although on the one hand this is a work about transcending the human condition (yey), it is also about the homosocial world of male divinities who disregard the (irrevocably human) women, whose purpose of life they happily become. There is no happy ending, there is no reconciliation in the order of things. (Though maybe that was the Konzept for productions of Rameau’s time? I wish they had DVDs then.) The two women are repudiated, Télaïre kindly, Phébée brutally. To say no to the sexual difference is to say no to the other sex–to not accept the possibility of its incidence, perhaps.
Dancers are used brilliantly. I’ve seen several Rameau productions with choreographies that have nothing whatsoever to do with the goings-on on stage. Here, the dancers enact mini-dramas which reveal the psyche of the otherwise enigmatic characters. We observe their conflicted thought processes and drives out in the open. A truly ingenious solution.
As is the manipulation of the sets on the many passages between this world and the other one. (Some of the moving walls will again remind of the silent automatic doors in the many Sci-Fi creations; the designer claims it has to do with stage directing techniques of the Baroque era).
YT is a good place to sample this production — see it here.
For a very different take (and Happy New Year!) —