The new Robert Carsen production of. jean-Philippe Rameau's Platte at the Opera Comique (seen Mar. 22) was one of the most anticipated events to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer's death. Created in 1745 at the Grande Ecurie de Versailles, this opera-ballet revolves around a ruse used by Jupiter to mock the jealousy of his wife junon. His stratagem consists of wooing the hideous nymph Platee and then leading his wife to discover the affair. When junon sees her laughably ugly rival, she is reassured. While all are complicit and highly amusedjupiter now has free rein to follow more serious amorous pursuits. The unhappy ending is reserved alone for Platee, who is cruelly humiliated and scorned by all.
By situating Platee's plight in the merciless world of high-fashion and consumerism, Carsen draws upon a cast of real life characters ranging from Karl Lagerfeld as Jupiter (French baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer) with white Persian cat (Choupette) to Coco Chanel as Junon (British mezzo Emilie Renard) and Lady Gaga as La Folic. (German coloratura Simone Kermes). Anna Wintour makes a cameo appearance, as does Jean-Paul Gautier; John Galliano prototypes abound as extras and chorus Fill the stage in style-crazed frenzy.
The graceless nymph Platee (Dutch tenor Marcel Beekman) becomes the fashion victim in the opulent setting, complete with glass staircase and glittering runway, concocted by British designer Gideon Davey. In this brilliant new collaborator, Carsen has found someone capable of translating his wildest dramatic impulses into an expressive and effective scenography. This production was challenging, given the constant shifts in action, numerous costumes (also designed by Davey) and the importance of the choreography, a veritable tour de force by Nicolas Paul.
Beekman had the vocal ease to pull off his travesti role, maintaining evenness of tone and capable of powerful high notes. As turbulent divinities, Renard and Crossley-Mercer were ideal vocally and stylistically, as were Cyril Auvity as Mercure, and Marc Mauillon as Momus/Citheron.
Unfortunately Kermes stood out as ungraciously as Platee in this company of refined Baroque singers. In the famous "Air de la folie" at the end of Act II, the tone was uneven, the French pronunciation incomprehensible, the intonation inexact, the lower tones muffled and the high notes screeched.
Scottish tenor Paul Agnew, now on the conductor's podium, was the most convincing of all. Closely associated with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants since the early 90s, Agnew performed the principal roles of Jason in Charpentier's Medee, Hippolyte in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie and even Platee. His conducting style is distinctly different from his mentor's. While there was less of Christie's fine edge and urgency, the attacks were delicately nuanced and overall there was more lushness of tone. It is difficult to imagine a better homage to Rameau than the extraordinary playing of Les Arts Florissants, which thanks Christie's visionary direction over so many years, is now one of Europe's finest orchestras.