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The Sunday Opera: Rameau's "Hippolyte et Aricie" from Paris' Opera Comique

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The gods will be meddling in the lives of mortals again on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/19 3:00 p.m.) as we visit Paris’ Opera Comique for a production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s first opera (written when he was 50), “Hippolyte et Aricie.”   Modern soap operas can’t compare to this libretto by Simon-Joseph Pellegrin focusing on the convoluted lives lead by those with whom the gods interfere.   Theseus (Stephan Degout) is the king of Athens.  His second wife, Phaedre (Sylvie-Brunet Grupposo) has fallen in love with Theseus’ son by his first marriage, Hippolytus (Reinoud Van Mechelen), but Hippolytus is in love with Aricia (Elsa Benoit) who is the daughter of Theseus’ rival Pallas.   Phaedre has fallen in love with Hippolytus, but he tells her that he does not love her, and she tries to kill herself with his sword.   As Hippolytus wrestles the sword away from her, Theseus enters, and presumes that Hippolytus is trying to rape his stepmother.   Hippolytus, in order to preserve Phaedre’s honor, says nothing, and determines to exile himself with Aricia as Theseus calls on his father, Neptune (Arnaud Richard), to punish Hippolytus.   This is just the beginning!   Hippolytus battles a sea monster and disappears in a burst of flames, but he’s not dead, but saved by Diana (Eugenie Lefebvre).   Neptune, realizing that Hippolytus is honorable, gives him three wishes, two of which he uses to travel to Hades (which he enters after battling a Fury) to save a friend, and even with all of this, we have a happy ending.  

The cast is supported by the Pygmalion Chorus and Ensemble with Raphael Pichon conducting.  

Join Michael Kownacky after the opera when we’ll enjoy some dance music from Rameau’s “Dardanus” before spending the rest of the afternoon with a stellar performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 (Symphony of a Thousand) featuring Heather Harper, Lucia Popp, Arleen Auger, Yvonne Minton, Helen Watts, Rene Kollo, John Shirley-Quirk, and Marti Tavela with the Vienna State Opera Chorus, the Vienna Singverein, The Vienna Boys Choir, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra all under the leadership of Sir Georg Solti.