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Rameau: Zoroastre [Blu-ray] [Import]

Anna Maria Panzarella , Anders J. Dahlin , Olivier Simonnet    NR (Not Rated)   Blu-ray

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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rameau's Zoroastre May 26 2007
By T. C. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Zoroastre was the fourth of Rameau's tragédies en musique that was staged, but the 1749 audiences were not especially enthusiastic about the opera, so Rameau and his librettist Louis de Cahusac reworked it completely, and in this revised version it was stages successfully in Paris on 19 January 1756. The revised 1756 version is the one heard today.

The opera takes place in the ancient kingdom of Bactria (old Persia) and is about the struggle between good and evil. The good are led by Zoroastre (Zarathustra), the "founder of the Magi", which is a devotee of Ahura Mazda (the Supreme Being) and the evil, led by the sorcerer Abramane, a servant of Ahriman (the Spirit of Evil).

The opera opens, with Bactria in chaos after the death of the king. The King had two daughters: Amélite, which is the rightful heir, and the evil Erinice. They are both in love with Zoroastre, who loves Amélite. After a lot of singing and dancing (5 acts) the Good is triumphant: Zoroastre and Amélite are the new King and Queen. Erinice is now repentant and Abramane defeated.

The new Opus Arte DVD offers an excellent performance of the opera, both visually and musically. Christophe Rousset, who also plays the harpsichord, leads expertly the HIP forces. The singers are very good.

Lis, the title role is Zoroastre, which was written for an haute-contre (a high French tenor). Mark Padmore was scheduled to sing the part, but it is sung here by the young Swedish tenor Anders J Dahlin. He has a very beautiful and flexible voice, which enables him to cope very well with several elaborated coloratura passages. The Evil main character, the sorcerer Abramane, is sung by baritone Evgueniy Alexiev. What a voice. He is outstanding.

From the ladies, one should mention first Anna Maria Panzarella, a Rameau specialist, singing very impressively in the role of the evil sister, Erinice (She recorded this role in the 2003 Erato recording that is conducted by William Christie). Sine Bundgaard sings Amélite. I was less impressed with her singing in the beginning, but than she improves, and in the end, she is very good. All the other singers are excellent, and one must mention the very tall bass Lars Arvidson singing and acting outstandingly as both Zopire and La Vengeance.

This is a typical Pierre Audi production, very suitable for the dark nature of the opera. And there are some very original dances that were created by Amir Hosseinpour. The opera lasts 156 minutes. All the rest of the DVD playing time is a documentary about the production, which has very interesting remarks from conductor Christophe Rousset about the novelty and originality of Rameau's music.

To sum up: This is a beautiful Rameau opera filed with exquisite music. I can highly recommend this set to anyone who is interested in the French baroque opera.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding opera production - highly recommended Oct. 5 2009
By Mr. John A. Coulson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Blu-ray|Verified Purchase
Basically the story of the opera centres around the tussle between good and evil, the good being personified in Zoroastre with his love for Amelite and the evil in the sorceror Abramante allied to Erinice, the sister of Amelite who also desires Zorostrate but is vengeful because of rejection.
Rameau was 66 when he composed this piece and it reflects his maturity with its sensuous and cleverly designed music. There are layers of interpretation which are easy to miss but the excellent one hour documentary gives a great introduction and should be viewed first, something I failed to do and so became somewhat perplexed about what was going on. Unfortunately the accompanying booklet gives no written synopsis, an silly omission as the 4 minute verbal description is next to useless. I extracted one from the net and it helped to explain what was going on.
The singing is uniformly excellent and very well recorded with appropriate costuming and excellent lighting to make the production very attractive. No it is NOT Eurotrash!!!
Rameau was a contemporary of Bach and Handel so if you like their music then this is a must for your collection
Video and Audio first class.
Unreservably recommended. This is a Blu Ray I will return to many times again. I'm purchasing the CD set featuring William Christie, Les Arts and one whi Florissants, et al. and this will add to further enjoyment of this delightful work.
Unreservably recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Before Sarastro, There Was Zoroastre ... Oct. 25 2010
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
... and before the 'magic flute' there was the 'magic book' that the beneficent magus Oromases presents to the hero Zoroastre in Jean-Philippe Rameau's boldly "Masonic" opera of 1749, composed decades before Mozart's Zauberflute. There's no clear evidence whether Rameau himself was a Freemason or not, but his librettist Louis de Cahusac unquestionably was, and a highly placed one. His libretto for this innovative 'tragedie lyrique' is an eloquent declaration of Enlightenment/Masonic humanism -- anti-clerical, optimistic about the potentials of humanity and society, a paean to Universal Harmony and the triumph of Light/Wisdom over Darkness/Superstition. There's not a speck of Christianity in the libretto, a fact that must have outraged more than a few people in the ancien regime. The humanistic philosophy expounded in Rameau's opera is far more explicit and radical than that of Mozart's glorious goofiness.

But the comparison extends beyond literary themes. It's a matter of musical genius, also. Let me place my cards on the table: this is a great opera, one of the greatest of the 18th C, and of course the 18th C was the greatest century of musical history. (Go ahead, call my bluff if you dare!) If you're distracted for the briefest moment while watching/hearing this performance, it can only be because you fail to`grok' the music fully ...

... but I'm realistic enough to know that French baroque is a cultivated taste, just as much as an appreciation of ripe cheeses or goose-liver patés. France took its own route through the baroque. French opera is ineluctably different from the conventions of Italian opera that prevailed eveywhere else, from Monteverdi to Mozart. Rameau (1683-1764) was an exact contemporary of Handel (1685-1759), the greatest of Italian opera composers, by the way. Whereas Italian opera was constructed as a series of recitations -- narratives that advanced the dramamtic (in)action -- alternating with da capo arias expressing vague universal themes, French opera was far closer to through-composed `verismo'. The distinction between recitativo and aria is minimal. French opera always included extended instrumental ballet passages, rare in Italian. Whereas the thrills of Italian opera are to be heard in the pyrotechnic displays of arpeggiated fast notes, in French opera the pleasures are in the `graces' and embellishments, in the sensuous affect with which the words are expressed. A manuscript of French baroque (not a modern edited score!) shows a myriad of squiggles over nearly every note. Italian composers wrote about the "hurla francese", the howls and shouts favored by French singers, and you will hear a lot of such impetuous vocalizing in thsi performance. Singing French baroque opera is a different art from singing Mozart or Rossini, let alone Verdi or Puccini. It requires very specific historically-informed training and complete dedication to the French manner. Even the finest romantic opera singers are not equipped physically to sing Rameau or Lully. Placido Domingo, for instance, could no sooner sing the role of Zoroastre artfully, or the superb Wagnerian Waltraud Meier sing the role of Amelite in this opera, than Sarah Palin could conduct American foreign policy without debacle. Likewise, modern orchestral instruments have no business attempting French baroque, and fortunately by and large they don't. The orchestra on this DVD combines the strings of Les Talens Lyriques with some of the winds of the Drottningholm Theater Orchestra, all `original' instruments at authentic baroque pitch. The timbres they produce are magnificent.

It's the singers, however, that matter most. All eight principals in this performance are superbly trained HIP specialists, and all meet the demands of their roles. The most luscious plum of a role goes to the anti-heroine Erinice, the wicked sister who is in love with Zoroastre but who conspires with his evil rival for the throne, Abramane. Erinice has the wildest shifts of affect to express from rage to adoration, despair to pride; Anna Maria Panzarella covers the whole spectrum. Amelite, sung by Sine Bundgaard, is a simpler figure; her task is to be lovely and pure, a vocal embodiment of the Light to dawn when Zoroastre rules. Zoroastre, sung handsomely by the handsome Andres Dahlin, is likewise more an icon of Virtue than a decisive hero; his eventual victory depends more on his spiritual backer, Oromases, sung by Gerard Theruel, than on his own prowess. His opposite, the demonic and demented personification of Darkness Abramane, is sung vigorously by Evgueniy Alexiev; just as in Milton's "Paradise Lost", the villian in Rameau's opera is far more vivid than the hero. Basso Lars Arvidson, comes close to stealing the show in the two roles of Zopire and Vengeance, the arch-diabolical cohorts of Abramane. Perhaps the best-known singer in the cast is soprano Ditte Andersen, in the secondary role of Amelite's maid Cephie. Andersen is such a superb singer that she also comes close to upstaging her mistress.

You'll notice from their names that this is an international cast. One previous reviewer, who didn't like the production as much as I do, complained about the singers' mispronunciation of the French text. He charged the male singers with being worse than the females. Frankly, I find his comments specious. The most `charmingly' Scandinavian vowels are those of Ditte Andersen, while Anna Maria Panzarella gives us Italian consonants throughout. My own French isn't perfect, but honestly I could understand the libretto most of the time without subtitles, particulary when sung by the two male principals. In any case, Louis de Cahusac didn't speak modern academy French! His libretto was written before the "great vowel shift" that followed the French Revolution. The language spoken in aristocratic circles of the ancien regime sounded as little like modern Parisian as a South Carolina drawl sounds like Australian.

The singers do NOT attempt an authentic 18th C pronunciation -- thank goodness -- but in every other way this performance is painstakingly HIP to the ears, original instruments matched with authentic vocal technique. What is presented to the eyes is the diametrical opposite, a relentlessly "modern" staging in terms of dramaturgy, cinematography, and choreography. And it's Modern despite being produced on the only unmodified late 18th C stage in the world, that of the Queen's Palace outside Stockholm. Even the stage machinery there is still authentic, the painted wings and clouds are still moved by windlasses turned by human arms.

I can't promise that everyone will be satisfied by the visuals. I can imagine that some aficcionados of baroque opera would prefer a `recreation' of a performance in the costumes and with the gestures of 1749. There's a lot of writhing and grimacing in the dramaturgy, as well as some extraneous jerrywork with the camera. I was least persuaded by the choreography, which I found visually short of the sensual grace that a baroque audience would have demanded. Nevertheless, the staging has the significant virtue of being consistent with the music and the text. There's nothing incongruous, distracting, or contrary about it, and that amounts to high praise in the current world of opera productions.

Purely in terms of compositional brilliance, Zoroastre is the most impressive of the several Rameau operas available on DVD -- Les Boreades, Les Indes Galantes, Les Paladins, Platee, Castor et Pollux -- and for that reason it would be the first I'd recommend as an introduction to the genre. The others are all extraordinary, too, with gorgeous singing and imaginative staging, but Zoroastre approaches closest to the foundational ideal of Opera as a synthesis of music, language, and thought.

The DVD includes an hour-long documentary, on the second disk, titled "Discovering an Opera". It's well worth watching, even for experienced lovers of French baroque. For neophytes, I might even recommend watching it first. Musical director/conductor Christophe Rousset deserves a very large share of the credit for the quality of this performance, and it's exciting to hear his thoughts about the French style while watching him rehearse some of the singers in details thereof. Stage director Pierre Audi also makes a good case for his modernistic dramaturgy.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very satisfying Zoroastre Aug. 29 2008
By Steven Guy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
Considering how few Rameau operas are available on DVD, it is good to see this one come out. I've had it for about a year now and I've returned to it many times. The staging is dark, but effective. My only complaint it the occasional overhead camera angle - however, this may please some viewers. The main quartet of singers are generally very good. The women are, perhaps, a little stronger than the men, but that is a minor quibble for me.

The orchestra uses the earlier version of the opera, without clarinets. However, the orchestral sound is excellent and Rousset brings out the inner rhetoric of even the most apparently prosaic musical phrase.

Lovers of Rameau need not hesitate. I only wish that William Christie's Les Arts Florissants production of the work, available on CD, had also been committed to film.

I look forward to Christophe Rousset's DVD recording of Rameau's "Castor et Pollux", also on the Opus Arte label, due in October this year.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All Beautiful but the Dance Sept. 11 2011
By Dr. John W. Rippon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I have had this recording for several years and have come back to it from time to time. Meanwhile I have collected other Rameau operas on DVD so as to become more familiar with his music style and singing style as well as the rendition of the opera under several designers and conductors. In addition, I have read much material about Baroque Opera and its various craftsmen. This time when I played it I certainly was less bewildered than the first time I watched it. I had for years known the instrumental music of Rameau and some of the vocal passages as presented in CD recordings. I had come to love these so that a visual presentation was to be a special treat. My first was Les Paladins and it was shocking! The music was beautiful but the production and stage movement (called dancing) came out of Mony Python and was horrible.
Over the several years I have had this recording I have generally become enchanted by most of the production. The orchestral playing is superb; the sets and costumes are quite satisfactory and the singers are fine to great. Anders Dahlin has a high flute-like tenor voice I found very pleasing and a personification of the "good". Evgueniy Alexiev has a more robust voice and as the "evil" spirit he certainly had more interesting music. But it was the evil Erinice that had the most interesting music and the greatest artist in Anna Maria Panzarella. She is on stage almost all of the time and is able to go through almost all the stages of human emotion from glee, hate, anger, love to pathos; a great actress as well as a great singer.
All in all I now find almost everything about this production as superior except. The exception is the dance. I still find it irrelevant. So much finger shaking, so much arm flailing, so many uncouth gestures. Dance is a beautiful, meaningful art form. Why spoil it?
I would still recommend this disc as otherwise it is a total artistic experience.

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