The French composer and theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau ( 1683-1764 ) composed the opera Platee to celebrate the marriage of Louis Dauphin, son of King Louis XV, France and Infanta Maria Theresa, Spain.
The work subverted Greek mythological characters, and infused 18th century Comedie lyrique, with dramatic integrity, harmonic sophistication, and comic grandeur.
Platee, the naive and ugly swamp queen (Kanenbreen), falls in love with Jupiter (Peter Coleman Wright), who wants to marry her to please his jealous wife Juno.
The action is led by a satyr, Citheron, the king and satyr of Greece (Adrian Tamburini), the God of Mockery and Disrespect, Momus, (David Greco), the inventor of Comedy, Thespis, (Nicholas Jones), the Messenger of the Gods, Mercury, (Jones), as well as Love and Madness, (Cathy-Di Zhang). In the prologue, these characters vow to “use humor to teach humans a lesson.”
Platee, which was well received by the audience and critics in Versailles in 1745, has been staged only sporadically since then, mainly in festival programs in Europe and America. Paris and Vienna’s last productions were in 2014. The opera is being produced for the first time in Australia.
The Australian cast is stunning.
Comedy stimulates the mind and makes it curious. Tragedy can make us cry or feel empathy, while comedy is a way to get people laughing. Comedy is a way to expose the truth and a place where we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously. We can laugh and learn from our mistakes.
The Australian production team of Pinchgut, led by Erin Helyard as artistic director and conductor (harpsichord) and Neil Armfield as director, blends historically informed baroque sounds with modern visual cues.
Platee is thrown into chaos by the after-party clutter, hangovers, and projections of stage action by Sean Bacon (Sean Bacon), wedding cake transformations by Jemima snars (cake design), lightning and thunder effects by Alexander Berlage (sound design), and contemporary dance moves by Shannon Burns.
Platee combines baroque music and contemporary staging. Pinchgut Opera/Brett Boardman
Platee, Kanen Breen’s drag show, fuses burlesque, cabaret and a huge physicality. She is sexy and frivolous. She’s pitiful, silly, and always entertaining.
Breen’s vulnerability is what makes his characterisation so touching. His Platee’s voice is full of colour and vibrancy, with a humorous falsetto.
Read more: Falsetto: The enduring love affair with the soaring male voice
Jones, Tamburini and Greco deliver solid performances vocally and histrionically.
Chloe Lankshear performs the obbligato Soleil fuis de ces lieux with a beautiful and sincere voice. Cathy-Di Zhang is a powerful vocalist and has an exemplary physical presence when performing Love and Madness.
Cathy Di Zhang is a powerful presence. Pinchgut Opera/Brett Boardman
The Australian opera singers Cheryl Barker & Peter Coleman-Wright, dressed as bride & groom, perform virtues of marriage commitment and fortitude. Coleman-Wright’s rendition of Jupiter’s Opening Air Aquilons Trop Audacieux (North Wind, You Are Too Bold) is a delight with its smooth and light tone.
Barker’s charisma is so strong that it doesn’t take much time for her to win over the audience. She will be the goddess protecting the state, the children, and the marriage.
Helyard conducts the orchestra and plays the harpsichord, dressed all in white. He spins Rameau’s music in front of the audience with abandon and takes the pulse of their emotions.
Pinchgut’s historical revivals of operas are renowned for their superb musical interpretations. The baroque specialists of the Orchestra of the Antipodes give the audience a wide range of instrumental timbres as well as dance rhythms that honor Rameau’s score. Infusing the visual narratives with local and contemporary cultural cliches keeps us entertained with the familiar.
The Cantillation Chorus is a gorgeous ensemble that perfectly embodies Rameau’s choral compositions. It’s a shame they aren’t trained actors because their characterizations do not match their musical performances.
Pinchgut Opera, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has presented another Australian premiere in the form of a baroque jewel under unprecedented difficult circumstances. Pinchgut Opera’s storytellers, singers, and musicians have once again proved that the arts can heal your soul.