Review: Rameau – Dardanus, English Touring Opera, Snape Maltings, November 3

The English Touring Opera's production of Dardanus at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. Photo: Snape

The English Touring Opera's production of Dardanus at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall. Photo: Snape Maltings - Credit: Archant

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) is hardly a household name but he is a significant figure in the history of music, being the first to publish a book laying down the principles of tonal harmony in 1725-6. His first stage work, Hippolyte et Aricie of 1733, created a sensation by breaking with the traditions of Lully and paved the way for his other operas, including Dardanus in 1739. The original version was heavily criticised for its libretto, amongst other things, and revised versions appeared in 1744 and 1760; the edition used by ETO largely followed the version used to open the 1744 run.

Director Douglas Rintoul set the opera in a modern, war-ravaged setting. Combats and any clothes to hand were the order of the day and only Teucer, the Phrygian king in smart naval overcoat passed sartorial muster. Yet it worked and the agonies and occasional outbreaks of fun and dancing, not to mention love, amongst the bleak ruins made poignant and moving viewing.

Musically it was a distinguished performance. Galina Averina was outstanding as the divided Iphise, torn between her love for the country’s conquerer Dardanus and the cynical betrothal of her to a new ally, Antenor. Her stamina, intensity and accuracy anchored the action and her every appearance added an extra frisson.

Anthony Gregory as Dardanus captured all facets of the prince, including his humanity but he was particularly compelling in the fine prison scene of Act 4. Did Beethoven know this music? – some similarities with the dungeon scene in Fidelio were striking. It is a demanding tenor part with much high register writing but Gregory had power alongside subtlety and insight. Grant Doyle, strong and reliable as Teucer, and the imposing Timothy Nelson as Antenor really caught the eye and ear in their ‘Mars, Bellone’ duet. The slightly shadowy role of the prophet Ismenor was nicely conveyed by Frederick Long and Eleanor Penfold was a sprightly and engaging Venus.

Jonathan Williams conducted the outstanding Old Street Band with exemplary clarity and brought Rameau’s restrained finale to a dignified and satisfying conclusion. An excellent rendition of a rare masterpiece.

Gareth Jones.

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