ENO's first production of Rameau's Castor and Pollux (1754) is a ‘must hear’ production with some thrillingly beautiful singing. Allan Clayton (Castor) and Roderick Williams (Pollux) are two mightily fine singers and to hear them duelling and duetting may well entice listeners to catch this a second time. As could Sophie Bevan's Telaire who grows from soubrette to tragic heroine abandoned by both brothers. Laura Tatulescu brings a brittle quality to Phebe, the sister in the shadow who (in this production) is falsely accused of betraying Sparta and precipitating the tragic events.
Christian Curnyn conducts, with his usual panache, an orchestra that unusually is half raised up from the pit. Baroque this may be, but Handel it ain't, and that unfamiliarity – calm yet obsessive arias and recitatives that run into each other – is worth experiencing. Barrie Kosky's production with its nudity, incest, gore and more will upset many, but others, more jaded by the shockabilly tricks of some modern opera, could remain unmoved. And yet in a stylish wooden box, with a lit ivory frame and claustrophobic descending walls, Kosky creates a compelling world where heaven, hell and earth are strangely similar and where Rameau is no longer simply an endless succession of minuets and gavottes.
The dance music is all there but this is a consciously anti-dance (or, at least, anti-courtly dance) production. This is epitomised by seeing Mercury (a finely sung Ed Lyon) with feet bloodied and bandaged trying to dance and repeatedly falling over. The most enduring image is of Pollux walking away silently and the double shadows cast on the back wall merging into one, but nothing will last longer than the memory of the glorious singing. (Nik Dasgupta)
Until 1 December (nine performances) starting at 19:30. Tickets: 0871 911 0200 or from the ENO website
Photo: Ed Lyon as a not so fleet footed, but brilliantly sung, Mercury © Alastair Muir