Rameau - Les Paladins

Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Thursday October 19 2006

Conductor: William Christie. Production and choreography: José Montalvo, Dominique Hervieu. Sets and video design: José Montalvo. Atis: Leif Aruhn-Solén. Argie: Stéphanie d'Oustrac. Nérine: Sandrine Piau. La Fée Manto: François Piolino. Orcan: João Fernandez. Orchestra And Chorus of Les Arts Florissants, Dancers from the Centre chorégraphique national de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne / Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu.

Enough has probably been said by now about this wonderful “hip-hop and video” production of Les Paladins. It has been to London, Shanghai and goodness knows where else and hasn’t finished touring yet; it is also on a DVD everyone should have; and I reviewed it the first time round, in May 2004.

There have by now been some changes to the staging and videos, but the main difference this time round was in the singing. The excellent Topi Lehtipuu, who has exactly the right kind of high, agile, fluid yet ringing tenor voice Rameau’s tricky declamation needs, was announced too sick to sing, and replaced by Leif Aruhn-Solén. As far as we could hear, this young man has the right vocal type and style, but his voice was tiny, like a mosquito at the back of the sets.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac seemed to me in better form than on the DVD, where her intonation is sometimes worrying; Sandrine Piau was, as usual, less audible than necessary whenever there was something fast to sing, though she certainly throws herself into the fun. João Fernandez did a very good job of replacing Laurent Naouri; he had less projection but was younger and more athletic. With René Schirrer as breathless as first time round, François Piolino sounded quite loud and he too seemed to have better tuning than before.

Overall, the singing was less to the fore than before, but the production remains a gem. It’s very rare to see such genuine smiles on the opera stage - as rare as to see so many “black-blanc-beur” teenagers from the “car-torching” suburbs in the audience: friends of the dancers no doubt.

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