Nearly three years after a memorable production of Les Indes Galantes, the Théâtre du Capitole reconnects with the master of the Treatise on harmony via Castor et Pollux, originally premièred by the Académie Royale in 1737, the other key point of linkage being the ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, conducted by Christophe Rousset, who appeared in both performances. Castor retells the myth of the two brothers whose fraternal love, powerful to the point of fusion, saves them from a fate which strives to separate them, between mortality and immortality

Antonio Figueroa (Castor) © Patrice Nin
Antonio Figueroa (Castor)
© Patrice Nin

The show is already in progress while the audience is taking its seats: the curtain is up and the two brothers are already on stage, under the watchful eye of their nurse, in the guise of Hebe. Mariame Clément's staging uses modern sets and costumes (designed by Julia Hansen), showing us a monumental staircase of a great mansion, whose symbolism is strong. Clever lighting from Bernd Pukrabek transform the instrumental passages into flashbacks of various episodes from the two brothers' childhood and adolescence. The display of these memories increases our understanding of their frustrations: Phébé, once beloved by Castor, is now rejected by him; Télaire, previously too young and therefore ignored, now turns every head; Castor, an ordinary mortal child, stays at the bottom of the staircase and gains nothing from the attention of his divine father figure – in contrast to Pollux. The transfer of the story into a 19th century aristocratic setting works perfectly, adding an extra layer of comedy into the mix. Jupiter's authoritarian priest summons Pollux, while the real action on stage is fixed with splendid freeze-frames on the picture. 

Antonio Figueroa (Castor) Hélène Guilmette (Télaïre) Aimery Lefèvre (Pollux) Dashon Burton (Jupiter) © Patrice Nin
Antonio Figueroa (Castor) Hélène Guilmette (Télaïre) Aimery Lefèvre (Pollux) Dashon Burton (Jupiter)
© Patrice Nin
The brotherly pair is wonderfully balanced, but is separated from the first act by the death of Castor (Antonio Figueroa) who, fatally wounded by Lincée, falls to the bottom of the stairs. The curtain falls on Pollux (Aimery Lefèvre), who is galvanised by the appeals for revenge. The orchestra gives a perfect rendering of the baroque sonority and dissonance, retuning the instruments between acts but somewhat accelerating the endings of the transitional numbers. The Capitole's chorus launches into the Spartans' "Que tout gémisse" with strong emotion, followed by Télaïre's lament, exquisitely sung by Héllène Guilmette and then responded to by the bassoon. Sergey Romanovsky sings sever roles which are given sparkle by a powerful, clear voice which competes with ease with the natural trumpet. Dashon Burton's thunderous entry as Jupiter, transformed into a paterfamilias constantly shut away in his office, requires the full panoply of percussionst's skills, simultaneously depicting wind, the roll of thunder and the lash of lightning. Burton's bass voice, however, is often quite closed and is only really let loose on brief occasions. On the other hand, Konstantin Wolff is the opposite, singing his High Priest. Gaélle Arquez shows notable vibrato as in the scene of Phébée's betrayal, which leads to her own destruction.

Momme Hinrichs and Torge Møller's video installations are used appropriately, illustrating marvellously the "bubble" in which Castor finds himself transported down to the underworld, but none the less suspended above the rest of the set. The reconciliation duet of the brothers is poignent, magnificently executed but also played with humour finely interwoven with subtle references. Whether for French speakers (native or otherwise) or foreigners, the text is always intelligible, making the surtitles unnecessary and allowing the audience to take full advantage of the events on stage without losing a morsel. The sober and unchanging set design is used perfectly, and the staging grips your attention for all five acts. For sure, this is a high point of the Toulouse season.

 

Translated from French by David Karlin