This opera from 1749 is a burlesque in which Rameau makes fun of 18th century operatic conventions and composers, including himself. Platée is some sort of pond-life who reigns over an underwater frog kingdom. Jupiter goes through a sham marriage with her in order to make his wife, Junon, jealous. At the wedding Platée is mocked for her ugliness and goes back to her pond, sadder and wiser. It's a bit like the Titania and Oberon plot from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" really, only with a frog instead of an ass.
The stage director, Laurent Pelly sets the first act in a theatre auditorium so that, when the curtain rises, the audience sees tiered rows of seats. Manic usherettes shepherd the modern-dress chorus around the auditorium while the gods, also in modern dress, hold discourse. This is simultaneously amusing and confusing. A modern audience will have enough trouble coming to terms with an 18th century burlesque without the added complication of this directorial conceit.
Things perk up in the following three acts with dancing frogs and performers in period costumes. Paul Agnew as Platée may not be to everyone's taste. He sings well but with a permanent green grin on his face he reminds me of a gangrenous Dame Edna Everage. Valérie Gabail doubles as L'Amour and Clarine. She looks delightful in the former role and had a very touching aria as the latter. But the show really takes off when the delectable Mireille Delunsch arrives as La Folie. She is a parody of a prima donna but Rameau gives her some spectacular music. Not only does she sing the part but she takes over the direction of the orchestra, with conductor Marc Minkowski feigning annoyance. As she holds a note interminably, Minkowski taps his wristwatch in irritation. She wears a dress made of manuscript paper and, whenever she is lost for inspiration, she tears a piece off the dress and sings it.
Otherwise, there is lots of ballet music, performed by frogs and music for the Three Graces performed by men in Y-fronts. This is a surreal experience but my viewing of this opera was made more surreal by the fact that, in the version I saw, the top line of each two-line subtitle was missing so that it appeared that everyone was singing random phrases. I was halfway through the second act and complaining loudly about the idiot translator before I picked up on this.
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