Synopsis - Castor and Pollux
Rameau's Castor and Pollux offers a different take on the theme of visiting the underworld to recover a lost soul – a myth stretching all the way from the familiar Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.
In this case the Spartan twins Castor and Pollux – both sons of Jupiter and heroes in battle – have the unfortunate distinction that the former is mortal and the latter is immortal: and both are in love with the mortal princess Telaira; as ill-luck – or fate – would have it, she loves only Castor, who dies in battle. Telaira calls on Pollux to intercede with his father and bring Castor back to life; Pollux reluctantly agrees, but Jupiter cannot override the laws of nature – Castor can return from the dead only if Pollux takes his place. Pollux shakes off Telaira's friend Phoebe, who loves him and tries to stop him, and battles the demons guarding Hades; there he meets Castor, who vows to return to Sparta only for one day.
On seeing Castor, Phoebe – imagining her hopes are dashed for ever – kills herself; and Telaira, learning of Castor's pledge, accuses him of never having loved her. Jupiter arrives as a deus ex machina to resolve the problem by granting immortality to both twins, who enter the heavens as the constellation of Gemini. The women's fate is a bitter one...
HOW TWO STARS WERE BORN
All ancient legends agree that Castor and Pollux were the twin sons of Leda, but not all agree as to their paternity. Some say they were the offspring of her husband Tyndareus, some that they were the progeny of the god Jupiter, who famously coupled with Leda disguised as a swan. Others maintain that Leda gave birth to two eggs, one containing Castor and Clytemnestra (wife of Agamemnon), the other Pollux and Helen (of Troy). According to this version, followed by Rameau, Pollux was immortal but Castor was not. Either way, Jupiter eventually rewarded them for their brotherly devotion by placing them in the Zodiac as the constellation Gemini.
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) was known only as a composer of keyboard and chamber music, as well as the author of several controversial treatises on harmony, before he wrote his first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, at the then grand old age of 50. But over the next 30 years he created more than 20 further stage works, revolutionising the classic style of French opera through his bold use of new orchestral colours, daring harmonies and dramatic declamation. First seen in 1737 but extensively revised in 1754, Castor and Pollux was considered Rameau’s masterpiece during his lifetime and survived longer in the repertoire than any of his other works.
MASTER OF ECSTASY
Born in Melbourne, now based in Berlin, Barrie Kosky has been artistic director of the Gilgul Theatre Company, the Adelaide Festival and the Vienna Schauspielhaus, and becomes Intendant of the Komische Oper Berlin at the start of the 2012/13 season. He has directed opera and theatre for the Australian Opera, the Vienna, Bavarian and Berlin State Operas and the Edinburgh, Los Angeles and Sydney International Festivals. His recently published book On Ecstasy evokes formative early experiences such as his Polish grandmother’s chicken soup, the TV series H. R. Pufnstuf, the smell of school changing rooms and the touch of fur, as well as his discovery of opera, theatre, Mahler and Wagner.
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