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The Sunday Opera: Jean-Philippe Rameau's "Castor et Pollux"

It’s an afternoon with a revolutionary on this week’s Sunday Opera (5/23 3:00 p.m.), a musical revolutionary, that is, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and the opera considered by many to be his best work, “Castor et Pollux.”   Rameau’s use of harmony and complex phrasing startled audiences who were used to the straightforward formulaic works of Jean-Baptiste Lully and railed against Rameau’s more Italianate and intricate harmonic style which revolutionized baroque music.  “Castor et Pollux” premiered in 1737 and, after a rather unrelated prologue, looks at the fable of the twins, both war heroes, who loved the same woman.  In a twist worthy of a Greek fable, Castor (Howard Crook), who is dead at the opening of the opera, was mortal where Pollux (Jerome Correas) is immortal.  Castor’s beloved, Telaire (Agnes Mellon), begs Pollux to intercede with Jupiter (Rene Schirrer) in order to bring Castor back to life for her.  Pollux is hesitant because he loves Telaire, but when he realizes that she will never love him, he decides to go to the Underworld and take Castor’s place so that Castor can be with Telaire.   This horrifies Phebe (Veronique Gens) who loves Pollux, so she commits suicide so that she will be able to be with Pollux forever.   There is, of course, another twist which unites the brothers once again, insures immortality for Castor, and places the brothers in the heavens where they became the constellation known as Gemini.  

Joining the principle cast members are Mark Padmore, Sandrine Piau, Claire Brua, Sophie Daneman, Adrian Brand, and Jean-Claude Sarragosse with William Christie leading Les Arts Florissants.  

More music of Rameu will follow including a suite from one of his lesser-known opera-ballets entitled “Le temple de la Gloire” as well as a ballet from his comic opera “Platee.”    

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.