Monday 10 November 2014

Rameau Platée comes to London with Paul Agnew

Paul Agnew conducts Rameau Platée with the Early Opera Company on 20th November. My review is HERE.That's Agnew in the photo above, when he was singing Platée in 1999 with Marc Minkowski. Platée is one of Rameau's best-known works, ranking with Les Indes Galantes. More details of the London performance HERE.  Agnew defined the part, and has probably sung it more than anyone else. He's also conducted the opera many times in recent years, including Paris, Vienna and New York.  So his presence in London will be reason alone to catch the London concert performance next week. He's replacing Christian Curnyn,. the Early Opera Company's much loved regular conductor, but Agnew is mega star billing in Rameau circles.What an opportunity to hear the best of Rameau with one of the best interpreters! This performance marks the beginning of a new relationship between the Early Opera Company and St John's  Smith Square.

Platée is a key part of Rameau's canon. Indeed, I don't think it's possible to understand Rameau without appreciating this remarkable work. It has all the key features of Rameau's style – energy, and vivacious dance rhythms, in a fantasy where gods, mortals, and animals mix with imaginative exuberance.  Not quite "good" humour though, as Platée was written to entertain Louis XV and his court on the occasion of the Dauphin's marriage in 1745. The bride was a Spanish Infanta, but she was very ugly.  Platée is a frog whose realm is a pond in the wilds, the opposite of refined, elegant Versailles. She/he has pretensions: she/he thinks everyone she meets will fall in  love with her. The part was written for a travesti, a man pretending to be a woman, which makes the satire rather cruel.  The man who sang the original was costumed so he looked as though he was covered in pustules. Yech! Quite possibly the French Court wanted this subject in order to put the Spanish in their place. Dynastic marriages were politically loaded, and had nothing to do with love..

As it happened, the princess died very young and the prince never became king. Yet given what we know of Rameau and the way he had to court the rich, perhaps the laughs are ultimately on the Gods and their abuse of power. Jupiter, Mercury and Juno might misuse Platée  as a pawn in their intrigues, but ultimately it's the humble frog who learns the true meaning of love, and finds wisdom. Apart from Platée herself/himself, the pivotal part goes to an extravagant character sometimes L'amour, sometimes La Folie. Love and madness! In the end, Platée returns to the pond, where she/he is in her/his natural element. Presumably the Gods still scrap, but the implication is that Platée is happy.

Please read my piece Frog Kisses Prince HERE  a review of the 1999 production filmed in 2002  - absolutely essential viewing!

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