Hippolyte and Aricie at Glyndebourne (3)

(Previous section here.)

Why refrigerators, anyway? The pattern seems to be (domestically-themed) boxes, toy houses, confined spaces, and cold. Or cold contrasted to warm – we get warmth in the form of the deer’s blood that Diana’s maidens smudge about the place, in the form of hell, behind the fridge, and in Diana’s antagonist, Cupid, who is costumed in bright red and orange and yellow. And bodies on gurneys in morgues, as in Act V, are certainly cold – except when they are revealed not to be dead after all.

Diana is associated with coldness – she first appears in the freezer box. By herself, in the freezer box, without even some peas or a microwave burrito for company. (Then again, this is, after all, a French refrigerator. Perhaps the French do not do microwave burritos.) The deer sacrifices emphasize blood, which is (one assumes) warm. She gets placated with the sacrifice of life, love, blood, etc. And in the end, Cupid, revealed in the prologue as her antagonist, is hanged. Love gets strung up – maybe despite bringing the two lovers together, Diana has won after all? Or Phaedre’s love and Phaedra herself were sacrificed in order to bring the young couple together. Certainly the ending doesn’t feel unreservedly happy. (Some of the dancers are wearing black mourning veils, after all.)

The fridge theme does not bother me, I think, because it can be connected with some of the more serious themes in the opera, but at the same time, there’s something silly and whimsical about it too. In the prologue we literally have people bringing out broccoli for trees, and a spinach leaf draped over a rolled-up tube of something or other as a grassy knoll – it’s very cute. And Rameau’s music certainly has its playful moments – indeed, I’d say that a production of Rameau that failed to be at least a little bit playful would feel lacking. I already mentioned the obligatory “nightingale!” aria; in general, this music feels as if you are not meant to take it too seriously.

7 thoughts on “Hippolyte and Aricie at Glyndebourne (3)

  1. This has me thinking of parallels with what I said in a recent piece on King Arthur about the vulgar and the sublime in 17th century English theatre, which is something that Jonathan Kent totally gets. Maybe there’s a parallel for Rameau and the later French Baroque in general. Almost all the successful Rameau productions I’ve seen have had elements of the anarchic or the mischievous (even when the libretto is drawn from Racine!). The one exception is Carsen’s les Boreades but perhaps Carsen, above all, is the exception that tests the rule. I’m not sure the same is true for Lully. Perhaps it just wasn’t wise to take the same liberties with le Roi Soleil that could be got away with as the Bourbons plunged towards extinction?

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    1. Maybe so! I haven’t developed a good feeling for the distinction between various subcategories within the French baroque – but Lully did seem to feel obligated to make a point of whooping it up about the king’s “gloire”

      My library seems to have a surprising amount of French baroque opera; I may have to dig through some more of it.

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      1. I used to lump Rameau and Lully together but they really are different eras. Their long lives only overlapped by four years. It dawned on me only slowly how subversive Rameau could be.

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        1. I sort of think of it as Lully on the one hand and everybody who wanted his job on the other (Charpentier). And then there’s this Rameau punk.

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      2. I have often thought about staging elaborate, classically-based allegorical pageants with lengthy terpsichorean set-pieces extolling the virtues of my boss both directly and metaphorically. But then I’m pretty sure this would not work in my favor.

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