The Organ

Rameau: Les Paladins

Barbican Theatre, London
19th October 2004

William Christie has a way with Rameau. Not only does the music sound newly minted but the stage realisation is breathtakingly original. After a stunning Les Boreades - which was reviewed on DVD - he now brings a multi-media production of Les Paladins to the Barbican Theatre which is as fresh as the day it was created and surely one of the most engaging pieces of music-theatre to grace the capital for a long time.

The stage presentation is by choreographer José Montalvo who is clearly as much at home with actors as he is with dancers. Would that directors new to music theatre had this sensitivity towards both the score and the audience. The story maybe light-weight but then Rameau meant the work to be enjoyed - the combination of mediaeval knights and Chinese fairy castles taking us close to the realm of pantomime. Yet this is anything but your standard panto. Yes there are wonderful sight gags - the balloons and the animals - but the dance and action is constantly alive to the music and the narrative. Characterisations are crisp, clear and witty. Stéphanie d'Oustrac bubbles as Argie and is superbly matched by Topi Lehtipuu as her lover/knight Atis. Most directors dread to ask singers to dance yet this pair keep up with the 'official' dancers and never seem out of place. Danielle de Niese's Nérine is a pert foil for Joao Fernandes lugubrious Orcan - surprisingly young for the part but more dramatically interesting for that. René Schirrer seems to be the only older member of the cast as the aging Anselme but eve he is able to move with ease among the dancers.

The stage is split into two and later three horizontal layers whose fronts are vertically split to allow rapid entrances and exits at all levels. Onto these a continuous projected image is used which is fully integrated with the live action. Seeing dancers dancing with themselves, huge Louis XV court figures bouncing as if on heavenly trampolines, a line of naked bodies which scurries down the back wall to roll up the curtain - only to turn it into a vast bed almost out of sight - to say nothing of the string of animals which wander in from time to time. I loved the rabbits - particularly the two who suddenly became like Harvey and took over the stage. Perhaps readers are beginning to get a feel of the experience! Throughout all of this Les Arts Florissants played effortlessly. Though the Barbican Theatre is a rather dry acoustic the high pit and close action made for a vibrant musical experience. Having read of recent production problems across a range of our standard opera companies I very much hope their management had a chance to experience this wonderful evening. Modern technology at the service of the music can only enhance our enjoyment.