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Rameau - Zoroastre

Zoroastre – Anders J Dahlin

Abramane – Evgueniy Alexiev

Amelite – Sine Bundegaard

Erinice – Anna Maria Panzarella

Oromases – Gerard Theruel

Cephie – Ditte Andersen


Conductor – Christophe Rousset

Stage Director – Pierre Audi

Set & Costume – Patrick Kinsmonth

TV Director – Olivier Simonnet

Choreographer – Amir Hosseinpour

Lighting Designer – Peter van Praet


Recorded at Drottingholm Slottsteater

Opus Arte OA 0973 D [July 2006; 227 minutes]


Here is an opera that was designed to shock. No, it's not one of “those” creations of a modernist director who has seen fit to burden a straight forward plot with gratuitous sex, violence and sleaze, but a drama where the composer intended to open up the gates of hell and reveal the horror of the power of evil. Rameau was not so much “thinking out of the box” as thinking centuries ahead of his time, and one can only imagine the extraordinary impact it must have had on 18th century audiences who would have been accustomed to tales of classical antiquity set in idyllic landscapes peopled by nymphs and shepherds.


In this production we can almost witness the blow through their eyes in the contemporary surroundings of Drottingholm's carefully preserved theatre. It has an unusually large stage (20 metres from the footlights to the back and still one of the deepest in Sweden ). The stage machinery allows for quick changes of scenery whilst the curtain is up and is equipped with trapdoors, moving waves, cloud cars, lightning machinery and wind and thunder apparatus; everything needed to produce the paranormal effects Rameau envisaged.


Dance elements are cleverly blended in, with much use of ritualistic hand gestures. The period costumes are just right and all is illuminated with a golden glow like candlelight.


The plot hinges around the struggle for dominance of two rival (and largely imaginary) cults. Zoroastre, after undergoing an impressive initiation ceremony, represents harmony and virtue, whilst Abramane leads the forces of evil. In a very bold characterisation he appears driven by the rage of hell, and he has virtually not a single line that does not mention hatred, power, revenge, torment, terror, or despair. He claims the lion's share of the action, with the whole of Act IV being devoted to a blood chilling occult ceremony of human sacrifice.


As the opera progresses the bid for supremacy shifts from dogma to personal ambition, with the two women (Amelite and Erinice) being drawn in. Good and evil hold sway in roughly equal measure, with sudden reversals resulting from a series of supernatural tricks. It is a real tribute to Pierre Audi's inventive direction that these pieces of artifice surprise and deceive the eye.


The words from a largely non-French cast are commendably clear; their singing is of universal good quality, and each is fully immersed in their respective character. The musicians of Les Talons Lyriques are augmented by players from the Drottingholm Theatre Orchestra, intelligently directed by Christophe Rousset.


The performance has been thoughtfully filmed from a range of angles, with a camera high above the stage showing the choreography to excellent effect. There is just one editing problem: it is obvious that the director intends the action to run on between Acts III and IV which is just the moment where you have to change discs, and the shock element of the stage suddenly filling with demons is lost.


The box includes a most interesting documentary which it is well worth watching first.


Serena Fenwick