I'd never have believed until Sunday that I could be so intoxicated with both the genius of Rameau and a production by Jonathan Kent, a director I'd always had down as a magpie plundering the ideas of others. But Glyndebourne worked its special magic and there we were, treading on air after five crammed-to-bursting acts. Hippolyte et Aricie, Rameau's first tragédie lyrique composed in 1733 when he was 50 years old, is a masterpiece, no doubt about it.
This is, above all, what you get when a fine team of singers and players - the magnificent, muscled Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment - works for over six weeks with a man who knows his Rameau inside out. As William Christie unquestionably does. I hear hair-raising tales about him from performers, but he gets the results, above all in the sometimes ferocious projection of that phenomenal string writing which puts Rameau in the top league of orchestration, the true ancestor of Berlioz and Ravel.
The composer brings on two tremendous frissons toward the respective ends of his third and fourth acts: the extraordinary effect of rushing waters as Theseus, believing himself wronged by his son Hippolytus rather than his wife Phaedra, invokes father Neptune (François Lis and Stéphane Degout pictured below as father and son) to punish the adulterer; and the grave divisions after the curse becomes a reality, Phaedra's exit to suicide.
Melodically, there are more pleasures than I'd have thought possible. Rameau is not all declamation, like Lully - who of course also has his exceptions - and among the loveliest set pieces are Phaedra's two arias of torment, the idyll of Aricia- drafted in as pallid contrast to the bad stepmother - having rediscovered her Hippolytus, a nightingale number and, most memorable of all, a luminous Musette for chorus and orchestra (Glyndebourne Chorus, it should go without saying, superlative throughout).
To say that all these were well performed is an understatement. Style came hand in glove with beauty of tone from everyone involved, Sarah Connolly's Phaedra matched every inch by soprano Christiane Karg as Aricia. Ed Lyon (pictured with her above in the wonderful woodland scene), travelling down on the train in a muscle-freeing vest, is not quite the hunk vocally, but cut the mustard; even more spirited tenor contributions came from Matthias Vidal in the first act and Loic Felix in the second.
And how some of us love it that Rameau has no cause for countertenors here, but favours the virile male voice, in which respect we could not have asked for more from Degout's tormented Theseus and Lis as three gods in one person (Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune).
The drama is as piled high with incident as the score, though we got the nub of the Phaedra-Hippolytus-Theseus tangle in a third act which Kent has been careful to locate downstage, making it a domestic drama in a clinical modern home.
Each act deserves a different style, which is where the genius of designer Paul Brown comes in so useful. The joky fridge-machinations of ice goddess Diana versus furry Cupid were fine given that the Prologues of tragédies lyriques tend to be a little bit boring and need as much livening-up as they can get.
In Act One, Diana's votaries frolic in white, blithely cut stag throats and roll around in blood; Connolly's Phaedra appears among them in striking red, while the lovers keep their purity costume-wise throughout.
The second act in Hades is an odd 'un, purely there for infernal spectacle - especially since this is our first meeting with Theseus. Pluto lives at the back of the fridge with sundry flies and spiders, cue for the more outlandish of Ashley Page's dances (which are pretty safe for the most part, more's the pity).
Great music only accumulates from the third act onwards, though. The pink-lit sailor ballet, so at odds with the domestic crisis, kept its queasiness, I thought, and the forest scene matched the 21st and 18th centuries with garish aplomb. Kent also, quite uncharacteristically, tied it all together with a finale in a mortuary (more iceboxes, of course). I didn't entirely buy the undermining of the happy end - and what's with the Fura dels Baus style old man's head on the curtain: old Theseus looking back? - but there was nothing to deflate our helium-filled delight. Another afternoon/evening of Glyndebourne perfection.
Unfortunately I can't detain you with any more shots of another summer idyll by the lake, because my laptop's gone into rehab and there are many things I can't do on the machine Juliette has so kindly loaned me. There's just time to recap on all the other new or live-new hearings I've been stunned by recently. Report on Britten's startlingly profound, almost Wagnerian Noye's Fludde in heavenly Tewkesbury Cathedral is now up on The Arts Desk, with glimpses of sundry other Cheltenham delights (including Poulenc two-piano stunners heard in concert for the first time). Here's a further flavour of my new/old hero James Mayhew's design for the ark with its dove-prow, photo by Malcolm Pollock.
On the listening front, I've had too few words (30 a disc on a BBC Music Mag 'In Brief' roundup) to wax lyrical about the sheer lacy beauty of a symphony and Shakespeare 'preludes' by that lovely romantic Joachim Raff; Neeme Järvi and the Suisse Romande Orchestra do it all proud.
Who says the Second Symphony doesn't have tunes? It starts with middle-European bucolics almost on a par with the beginning of Dvorak's Sixth, and its scherzo has wondrous woodwind writing. Best of all, perhaps, is the Ariel music in the Tempest tone-poem, though all four Shakespeare settings have their sensitivities.
It was serendipity that just after I'd been banner-headlining my hope of hearing the comic opera The Sacred Goose by Hans Gál (pictured above) following what Michael Haas had written about it in Forbidden Music, along came a recording of the Second Symphony. It's part of a cycle pairing the Austrian's four symphonies with Schumann's and comes from Kenneth Woods and the Orchestra of the Swan, which sounds like such a fine orchestra in the exemplary Avie recording.
The Second ought to be a profoundly tragic work; when he composed it in 1942, Gál was an exile in England. In that year, his mother died, his sister and aunt escaped Auschwitz only by taking their own lives and his youngest son committed suicide. Instead of darkness, though, the Second is more remarkable for the radiance and rigour of its laments. I find it incredible that it should end so peacefully. There's a comparison here with Martinů's Third, a greater work no doubt; and yet Gál's nostalgic style is so obviously the man, and a good man at that. Time now to investigate the other three symphonies.
All Glyndebourne production images by Bill Cooper