Rameau Hippolyte et Aricie
If I were pressed to nominate the greatest single acts in baroque opera, high on the list would be Act 2 of
Despite the opera’s title, the main protagonists are Theseus and his queen Phaedra, whose guilty passion for his son Hippolytus precipitates the tragedy (even though there is a happy ending for the eponymous pair). In all three recordings Phaedra is strongly cast, none more so than in the present case, with Lorraine Hunt even more passionate than Dame Janet Baker was on the Decca recording, and particularly impressive in the superb aria “Cruelle mere des amours” which begins Act 3, into which Rameau poured all his artifices of affecting suspensions and harmonies. Throughout the opera, indeed, one is also struck alike by the profusion of invention, the unobtrusive contrapuntal skill, the charm and colour of the instrumentation and the freedom allotted to the orchestra. The work’s final scene, for example, set in a woodland, is filled with a truly enchanting atmosphere, ending, after the customary chaconne, with “Rossignols amoureux” (delightfully sung by Patricia Petibon). Anna-Maria Panzarella makes an appealingly youthful Aricia (to whom Rameau allocates surprisingly little on her own), and Mark Padmore is easily the best Hippolytus of the three recordings, making the most of his despairing Act 4 aria “Ah, faut-il, en ce jour, perdre tout ce que j’aime?”. Pains have been taken with the whole cast over the expressive delivery of words and their timing and over neatness of ornamentation; and production values such as the proper perspective for the entry of the crowd rejoicing at Theseus’s return have been well considered.
All told, this is one of William Christie’s best achievements, an obvious labour of love for a masterpiece which, he confesses, has entranced him for 30 years.'