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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.
I rented this two disc DVD out of curiosity and didn't want to return
Platée is an opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) sung in French (English subtitles are available) and recorded at a live theatre performance. It is a treat for the ears and the eyes.
The performance of Paul Agnew in the lead role is unforgettable. He plays the character of 'ugly ducking' water nymph Platée to perfection. His singing is lyrical and warm; his characterisation is funny, sad, tender and sympathetic in turns.
Top praise to the costume designer (costumes are amazing!), choreographer and make-up artists for their part in this French fantasy. Conductor Mark Minkovsky joins in the fun too.
All the other singers contribute well to this special event. Even if you think you don't like opera, try this. It's how opera used to be before it got heavy.
Sadly there are no extras with this DVD. I would have enjoyed interviews with the conductor and main singers.
Baroque opera is growing on me all the time. Handel for me is still the king in this respect, but Rameau is a close second. Perhaps Platee is not his best work, however you don't think about that when you hear the beautiful music and are amused and enchanted by the admittedly silly story. I loved this Laurent Pelly production, I do put his Offenbach productions(Belle Helene, La Vie Parisienne, Orphee Aux Enfers and La Grande Duchesse) over this, but it comes this close to being on the same level. The costumes are amazing to look at even in modern dress, and the settings are just as colourful in alternative to sparse. The polytechnics are spectacular also. The staging is always vibrant with a lot going on without being too cluttered, capturing the humorous nature of the score and opera perfectly. I was also hugely impressed with the choreography. Okay the prologue and a few of the pre-wedding scenes were rather banal and will leave some people perplexed but that of the frogs, Folie's followers and the graces were incredibly charming. The orchestra play with so much energy and style, and Marc Minkowski looks as though he is enjoying every moment of the production(hardly a surprise as I as a viewer felt exactly the same). The chorus are beautifully blended and act deftly and the corps-De-ballet is full of grace and elegance while never being cold. The performances are just as great, Paul Agnew and Mireille Delunsch are in very difficult roles and both do justice to them. Agnew has to give so many different emotions and he does this with willingness and poignancy. His singing is beautiful and clear too. Delunsch's singing is astonishing and she seems to be having a whale of a time, especially in how she executes those very unhinged, somewhat Prima-Donna-ish antics. Laurent Naouri brings an as ever warm quality to his voice and plays aloof very well. Overall, really entertaining. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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