Hippolyte et Aricie
I saw Jonathan Kent's very entertaining production of Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie at Glyndebourne. You remember the Greek myth? Hippolytus is mad keen on hunting and a staunch devotee of Artemis. Artemis demands that her followers are chaste, much to the chagrin of Aphrodite who curses Hippolytus and makes his stepmother Phaedra fall in love with him. When a messenger reports that Hippolytus' father, Theseus, has died whilst away from Athens, Phaedra declares her love to her stepson, who is completely appalled. News comes that Theseus is not dead after all and Phaedra hangs herself in shame. Theseus falsely accuses his son of raping Phaedra and Hippolytus is fatally wounded in an accident, revealing the truth to his distraught father just before he dies. Euripides' play Hippolytus was written in 428BC.
Racine, the French tragedian, wrote a version, Phedre, in 1677 in which appears another character, Aricia, the sole survivor of the royal house of Athens whom Theseus has supplanted and whom he has forbidden to marry. In this version, as well as Phaedra's forbidden passion for Hippolytus, there is also a (forbidden) passion between Hippolytus and Aricia. The news of Theseus' death creates tensions not only of love but also of a power struggle between these three characters as Phaedra says Hippolytus should marry her to retain the throne, whereas he wants to marry Aricia which would restore the old royal family.
Rameau's version had its debut in Paris in 1733 and was modelled on Racine's play, substituting Cupid for Aphrodite.
Jonathan Kent's production is set around a huge fridge with Artemis (Diana) appearing as the ice maiden from the ice box and Cupid breaking out of an egg. Diana's temple is a game larder with stags hanging from meat hooks. Theseus, down in the Underworld (the element behind the fridge), begs his father Neptune to ask Pluto to release him back to the land of the living. The request is granted but Pluto tells Theseus to expect "hell on earth" when he arrives home and this of course comes true when he discovers what's been going on in his absence. Brilliant.