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Simon Rattle believes in it; so do John Eliot Gardiner and William Christie. And when the art of Jean- Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) is brought to life as stylishly as this, I do too. But no one else seems to, to judge by the number of performances he receives. This Royal Academy of Music production of Dardanus was, astonishingly, the work’s UK premiere. I can name just one previous encounter, in Basle in 1981 supervised by Alan Curtis, but it made a sufficient impression to make me want to see it again, and I am glad I did.
The natural habitat for Rameau’s lyric tragedies is a festival – Glyndebourne was toying with a production a few years ago until George Christie quashed it – because they demand the sort of treatment the ancien regime could afford. What is so wonderful about Rameau is that he makes the fragrance of dance indistinguishable from the substance of drama and song, so you get the most spanking cocktail of lyric arts in a single gulp. It’s time we stopped thinking of him as a purveyor of prancing stage manners and recognised his unique contribution to music in the theatre.
I have nothing but praise for Robert Chevara’s staging of the original 1739 version. The whole enterprise, conducted by Laurence Cummings, designed by Emma Cattell and stunningly lit by Paul Taylor, was filled with an understanding of period French style and what it takes to translate it to our 21st-century sensibilities.
Barring some steps and illuminated boxes, there was no decor and no frippery. Costuming was simple and stately. Everything was focused on the drama, to which the choreographic eloquence of Isabel Mortimer’s dances was integral, not least in the sexiest sequence of Songes I can imagine.
In these surroundings of intense simplicity, an allegory of love and war was told to great expressive effect. Allan Clayton, Claire Watkins and George von Bergen led an even cast.
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