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Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)
Platée

Paul Agnew (Platée)
Mireille Delunsch (La Folie / Thalie)
Yann Beuron (Thespis / Mercure)
Vincent Le Texier (Jupiter)
Doris Lamprecht (Junon)
Laurent Naouri (Cithéron, un Satyre)
Valérie Gabail (L’Amour / Clarine)
Franck Leguerinel (Momus)
Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
Choreography: Laura Scozzi
Rec: February 2002, Opéra National de Paris au Palais Garnier
Sound format: Dolby Digital 5.0, DTS 5.0, LPCM stereo
Subtitle languages: GB, D, F, ES, IT
Picture format: 16:9 and 4:3
Picture standard: PAL
Region code: 2
TDK DV-OPPLT [150 mins]

 

Marc Minkowski's Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble is one of the most exciting early-music ensembles performing opera today. Specializing in the French baroque repertoire (such as Rameau and Lully) as well as Handel operas and oratorios, Minkowski records these works regularly and performs them around the world. First recording Platée in 1988 for Erato, Minkowski recently returned to this work, performing it in a lavishly staged version in 2002. This DVD was filmed during the Parisian performances at the Palais Garnier.

In the prologue (more than 20 minutes), a group of gods decides to "Formons un spectacle nouveau", or create a new form of theatre. While on a drinking binge, they promise to "wage a never-ending battle against absurdity! We'll spare neither mortals nor gods!" The comedy follows, as Platée, a frog (written for a tenor; a rarity in this type of French opera), sung by Paul Agnew, is so terribly ugly that the Gods ridicule her. They set up an elaborate practical joke to make Platée believe that Jupiter is in love with her and wants to marry her. Alas, this is nothing but a joke, and just before the nuptials, Juno arrives to stop the wedding; of course it was all planned as such, though Juno didn't realize that the bride-to-be was a frog. Humiliated, Platée returns to her swamp, disappointed.

Musically, this is one of Rameau's finest lyric works, filled with the signature riffs and melodic inventions that make him the premier composer of French Baroque operas. The lively orchestral interludes alone stand as some of the finest works of the period. This is foot-tapping music, containing the kind of melodies one hums after hearing them.

From the very first notes of the music, one can hear Minkowski's precise, rich, lively approach to the music. His musicians are among the best currently performing this music, and both their playing and the sound are exemplary. With ideal presence, never too distant, never too loud, the music melds with the voices perfectly at all times.

And what voices! Obviously, almost fifteen years after recording this music on disc, Minkowski has chosen a new generation of singers. Laurent Naouri is Cithéron, and he opens the march. His voice is powerful and intense, and his stage presence is riveting. His voice espouses perfectly the roundness of Rameau's melodies, which range from pure singing to a sung recitative style that is part of the charm of his operas.

Paul Agnew is simply outstanding as Platée. With his ridiculous frog costume, his total immersion in the part - to the point that all his movements and expressions make one think of a frog - his performance goes far beyond his singing. Agnew acts as well as he sings, and performs this role flawlessly in difficult circumstances (one can imagine the amount of time necessary to prepare for this performance, with his complex costume and make-up.) Agnew brings incredible humour to this role, in his movements, his facial expressions, his gestures, and also in his diction, which is excellent for a non-French singer.

The few female roles in this opera have very limited parts, making this essentially a masculine work - at least a work where masculine voices resound. Nevertheless, the female singers are all, during their brief appearances, quite good. Mireille Delunsch is especially radiant in her appearance as La Folie in the second act, and the audience responds by giving her a long round of applause. But in the end, it is Platée, and Paul Agnew, who carry this work from the beginning to the end. (Almost the beginning, because Platée does not appear in the prologue.)

The staging of this opera is fairly typical of modern performances, with incongruities abounding, and an interesting choice of sets and choreography. The costumes are as bizarre as possible, especially those for Platée and her band of nymphs. Many animals are present in this work, and the costumes are farcical and fantastic, giving this production a marvellously light and fanciful tone. The actual filming and camera work is top-notch, and this video recording won a FIPA d'Argent award in 2003, for the original televised version.

Naturally, as with most DVDs, Platée does not include a libretto; you have the choice of sub-titles in five languages. But if you have Minkowski's earlier Erato recording, it contains a facsimile of the original French libretto, with English and German translations. If you read French, this facsimile puts you much more in the spirit of the original work than any plain text version could.

It's hard to find fault with this disc. Musically and dramatically it is near-perfect, and the sheer pleasure that the singers all exude throughout is contagious. At the end, as the choir sings "Chantons Platée, egayons nous, Chantons le pouvoir de ses charmes," I couldn't help wishing that this opera went on a few hours more.

Kirk McElhearn



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