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Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Paladins [Import]

Topi Lehtipuu , Stéphanie d'Oustrac , José Montalvo , Dominique Hervieu    NR (Not Rated)   DVD

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb multi-media hip-hop Baroque Opera that rocks...really Jan. 22 2006
By Michael Birman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
Baroque that rocks! is the title of a documentary film by Reiner E. Moritz that accompanies this Opus Arte DVD production of Jean-Philippe Rameau's (1683-1764) penultimate masterwork Les Paladins, inspired by a fable by La Fontaine. Described as a Comedie lyrique in three acts and composed in 1760 when Rameau was 77, it blended reality and the surreal even before director Jose Montalvo and choreographers Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu began their efforts to bring this Baroque masterpiece before a 21st Century audience. Watching this ingenious blend of 18th Century French Opera and ultramodern technology, dancing, multi-screen films and imaginative staging is like wandering through a wormhole in spacetime. All times between are bypassed and only those slivers of spacetime that correspond to 1760 and the present - the entrance and exit points through this artistic portal - are allowed to coexist. And coexist they do; modern dance, film and a plethora of strange activity reflect or comment upon what occurs on stage. One inhabits two worlds simultaneously and it takes some getting used to. Dancers utilize old school breakdancing, hip-hop, West Indian, African and urban street moves, all superbly choreographed by Ms. Hervieu. Multiple screens doubling as multiple stage doors present a profusion of films frequently incorporating stage performers so that they interact with their virtual selves and others; they are constantly morphing into animals, birds, butterflies and statuary of various shapes and sizes. Balloons float across the stage as props, a trampoline is utilized as an apt metaphor for love's flight. Castles and gardens appear and disappear as needed via film and image projections. And all this time, like a heart that refuses to falter, a magnificent Opera persists onstage and in the pit, sublimely played and gorgeously sung.

Words alone cannot describe the visual dimension of this wondrously realized production. However, the predominantly youthful singing and dancing stars of this Opera, filmed live in May 2004 at the Theatre du Chatelet Paris, are ultimately the real reason for its success. They are wonderful, providing talent and energy in abundance. The plot of Les Paladins revolves around love. The old Anselme loves (and imprisons) the young Argie who loves the young Atis. The various struggles to requite love (including a maid Nerine and a gaoler named Orcan) make up the bulk of the story. Thankfully, an illustrated synopsis on the first disc is quite helpful in explaining what's what. Handsome Topi Lehtipuu as Atis is marvelous with a beautiful lyric tenor voice, perfectly trained for Baroque Opera. His tone and diction are crystalline. He can act and he can dance, too. All of the cast are required to dance as well as act their roles. Beautiful Stephanie d'Oustrac plays Argie. Hers is a lyric soprano voice that matches her statuesque Gallic beauty. She spends most of the Opera wandering around in shorts and knee-stockings looking sexy and sad. Orcan is Laurent Naouri and Nerine is Sandrine Piau. All the singers and dancers (and there must be more than 60) are excellent.

William Christie is a master of the French Baroque. Conducting his period instruments group Les Arts Florissants, he brings Rameau's deliberately shocking score to life. It is suggested that Rameau, at 77 years of age and with several successful Operas on his resume, wanted to create a splash following the notorious "War of the Buffons" that had roiled Parisian musical life the previous two years. He unleashes a fireworks display of musical ideas: every instrumental trick he knew (and he knew plenty), strange, abrupt meter changes, odd sounds and even extensive parodies of himself. His score is pristine and coarse by turns. Rhythmical in the extreme, Les Paladins is definitely unthinkable without extensive dancing. Debates about the nature of this production may be answered by the evidence provided by it's artistic success. It works.

This opera contains some nudity, most of it very discrete. Be forewarned if nudity is a problem. I am opposed to the gratuitous use of nudity but here it is integral to the plot and the larger design of the work. The film is in color and shot in 16/9 anamorphic widescreen. It is crystal clear. Sound is both LPCM stereo and 5.0 DTS Digital Surround (there is no separate subwoofer track). On higher-end A/V systems there is a significant difference between the two, with DTS providing greater presence, a larger illusion of space in the soundfield and a sense of "liveness" I have found in none of the other formats (including Dolby 5.1). Lower-end systems may not reveal much difference. The sound on this DVD enhances the "live" nature of the program. There are 2 discs and their playing time is 204 minutes. The region code is NTSC all regions. Menus are in English, French and German and there are the usual 5 subtitle languages. Extras include the Illustrated Synopsis, a Cast Gallery and the documentary "Baroque that rocks!". There is an excellent 36 page booklet in English, French and German that contains superb notes including the original story by La Fontaine.

This is a superb DVD and I strongly recommend it to open-minded lovers of Baroque Opera.

Mike Birman
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great fun! Sept. 23 2006
By Plaza Marcelino - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I first got to know this production when it was shown over cable and satellite TV all over Latin America on the Film & Arts network. Upon learning it had been released by BBC Opus Arte, I immediately ordered it from Amazon US. Unfortunately, the two copies of this two-disc set I have received from Amazon so far have proven to be defective, as in the second disc the image freezes soon after the third act begins, and remains so thereonwards; the supplementary material, a 40-minute "making of" film by Rainer Moritz with interviews of the participants, cannot be accessed. From reviews from others in this website I gather these problems may appear to affect only a particular production batch from which came my two copies; a strange indeed event given the source, but any way I thought it should be reported.

The production is great fun but requires to be approached with an open mind. Perhaps construeable as a statement against the turning of baroque opera into a museum item (its "museum-isation" if such a term may be coined), it makes ample and clever usage of video images and sequences projected onto the stage's background (no sets, just a screen with several slits, openings from which dancers or singers may pop in or opt out), for the many dance interludes the score calls for 18th century approaches are altogether eschewed and replaced for capoeira-like steps or brake-dance by a troupe of dancers from suburban Paris comprised by youngsters from most cultural and racial backgrounds such a metropolis may offer, allowing for a handsome and atractive constellation of people. All in all, great fun, supported by some of the best baroque singers, young or more mature alike, France has to offer, and by that master guru of french baroque opera, the American William Christie and his wonderful band of players in the pit. Admirers of Stephanie d'Oustrac will have ample oportunity of admiring not only her outstanding singing but also her endless and shapely legs.

Again, if you won't frown before an attempt at pulling 18th century works into a contemporary setting, the set is unmissable, if you prefer your french 18th century operas peopled with singers and dancers in long coats, powdered wigs and feathered hats in Versaillesque settings, with actual gavotte steps, don't bother looking into this release.

The score has some of Rameau's most appealing music and the audience present at the Paris Châtelet theatre during the 2004 performances when the set was recorded, do sound as if they were indeed enjoying it throughout.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Over the Top Rameau Aug. 2 2006
By Don G. Evans - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I share much of Mike Birman's enthusiasm for this performance. While "daring" performances of baroque operas far removed from their centuries old context is nowadays more banal than shocking, this production as a whole succeeds admirably. The orchestra and singing are up to William Christie's usual high standards and will satisfy even the most critical Ramiste. It can be said that the staging "pushes the envelope" and at times tears it, but, as Christie points out in the truly excellent "Baroque that Rocks" feature that accompanies the production, the work itself displays an almost absolute anarchy, and this is more than appropriately mirrored in its modern incarnation.

While I probably think fewer of the effects here work than does Mr. Birman (or, they work at first, but drive you nuts after seeing them fifty times, like the excessive random animal transformations and the line of nude actors stretching across the stage pulling up the curtain, an effect that quickly becomes deadly), there is no denying that the net result is more than satisfactory. The dancers doubling the singers is a clever idea too, which works most, if not all of the time, Many of the dances and dancers are extraordinary, in concept, execution, and in bringing out new dimensions in Rameau's score. As for Rameau's music, while the general level is not up to that of his better-known works, this is to hold it to a very high standard indeed. One of the great advantages of the "Baroque that Rocks" feature is that it reprises most of the musical and dramatic highlights of the production (with comments by the singers), reminding one of the many marvelous gems in this production that tend to be forgotten in the overall musical and visual anarchy.

I rather think that if Rameau were alive today, he would be enchanted with what the moderns have made of his bagatelle. Ignore, or get used to, the things that don't work, and revel in those that do, and you too can experience the magic of Les Paladins! Highly recommended.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very entertaining ! July 12 2009
By Robert Wolovitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This is like the Cirque du Soleil of the opera world. Extremely entertaining and one of the most beautiful artistic experiences. A must !
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fun with an updated Rameau May 8 2007
By djg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
with a mix of video,ethnic catchy modern dance and a cast having visible fun, this is a true revelation of what can be done with 18th century music.it is full of spirit and wit;and not at all the french equivalent of the four seasons you know music you've heard way too often....Piau and Lehtipuu are wonderfull sprightly singers; forget the twists of the plot and savor the delicious music!

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