Hippolyte et Aricie. The acquired but flavorful taste of French Baroque.

Hippolyte et Aricie

Hippolyte et Aricie. Opernhaus Zürich. Foto: T+T Fotografie / Toni Suter + Tanja Dorendorf.

Hippolyte et Aricie. “Tragédie en musique” in vijf actes van Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). Libretto van Abbé Simon-Joseph Pellegrin, naar “Phèdre” van  Jean Racine, “Phaedra” van Seneca en “Hippolytos” van Euripides. Bijgewoonde voorstelling: Opernhaus Zürich, 22 mei 2019.

Aricie: Mélissa Petit
Hippolyte: Cyrille Dubois
Phèdre: Stéphanie d’Oustrac
Thésée: Edwin Crossley-Mercer
Neptune, Pluton: Wenwei Zhang
Diane: Hamida Kristoffersen
Œnone: Aurélia Legay
Première Parque: Nicholas Scott
Seconde Parque: Spencer Lang
Troisième Parque: Alexander Kiechle
Une Prêtresse de Diane, Une Matelote: Gemma Ní Bhriain
Un chasseur: Matthew Leigh
Tänzer des Perithous: Davidson Hegglin Farias

Dirigent: Emmanuelle Haïm
Regisseur: Jetske Mijnssen

Orchestra La Scintilla
Chor der Oper Zürich
Tänzerinnen und Tänzer

Kontrabass: Ruslan Lutsyk
Cembalo: Benoît Hartoin


On 19 May 2019 the Zurich Opera House presented its new production of Jean-Philippe Rameau‘s Tragedie Lyrique in five acts Hippolyte et Aricie from the year 1733. Rameau’s work, using a libretto by Simon-Joseph Pellegrin, follows the tradition of French baroque opera including extended ballet scenes and musical divertissements. The plot follows all in all a famous episode of ancient Greek mythology telling the story of King Theseus of Athens and his wife Queen Phaedra who is in love with her stepson Hippolyte. As the latter is in love with Aricie, the Queen tries to remove her rival, while trying to gain Hippolyte’s love. In a tragic cascade of events Phèdre almost causes the death of Hippolyte and the lieto fine can only be accomplished by the intervention of Diane.

Dutch director Jetske Mijnssen introduced herself in Zurich in the last season with Mozart’s Idomeneo. Her updated, unsensitive production of Idomeneo was dreadfully sung and a low point of Zurich’s past opera seasons. For Hippolyte et Aricie Mijnssen, though, had a much better, respectful hand.

The director places the opera’s story at a King‘s Court during the baroque era. Ben Baur, set designer of the most recent production of Il Turco in Italia, designed once again a revolving stage. This time however the result was absolutely tasteful, aesthetic and coherent, making the last disappointment (almost) forgiven and forgotten. The classic architecture of the set was complemented ideally by the most opulent baroque costumes by Gideon Davey we have seen in Zurich in recent times. The raven masks designed for the second, nightmarish scene in the Hades was an unforgettable highlight. In this frame, Mijnssen presents an absolute intelligent, sensitive production, with a rich Personenregie, full of details and insights using spectacular fire effects. We can follow a moving story of innocent love in a cold and brutal world of aristocracy.


Calm flowing tunes

Pity though that the allegorical prologue scene, an integral part of baroque opera tradition, had been dropped. Musically, this Rameau opera impressed with its calm-flowing tunes that only cumulate to more spectacular effects at divertissements and choirs at the finals of the several acts. Emanuelle Haïm conducts the Orchestra La Scintilla full of passion and devotion, bringing this music to life emphasizing its whole spectrum of colours. Mélissa Petit sings the role of Aricie with her clear, high voice, chiming together with the light but powerful Cyrille Dubois as Hippolyte. With his warm and impressing bass Edwin Crosselez-Mercer performed the tragic and moving character of King Thésée. Only Stéphanie d’Oustrac’s Phèdre stayed all in all rather pale and could not convey the complexity of this character between pathological love, revenge and remorse. Hamida Kristoffersen played a dominant authoritarian Diana, while Wenwei Zhang impressed as powerful Neptune and Pluto. The dancer of Perithous, Davidson Hegglin Farias, must also be mentioned, for his difficult and brilliant appearance.


Coordination problems

The chorus conducted by Janko Kastelic still had to find its access to this baroque music during this second performance, showing massive coordination problems especially at the beginning of the opera. Hippolyte et Aricie at the Opera House Zurich is a convincing and beautiful opera experience. The work though will remain side-repertory mainly interesting for lovers of baroque opera and absolute opera experts (=freaks). The house was not nearly sold out and after the intermission of that 2,5 hours evening many more seats became empty. A pity! Those who stayed applauded for all involved artists even louder. It would be wonderful if the Opera House Zurich used the same devotion, passion and ambition for its new productions in the so-called core-repertory. In that field, too many operas here have been wasted – mostly due to the current trend of opera directing which is over-represented here in Zürich.


Marco Ziegler (published on 23 May 2019)

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