To start off the 2015-16 season at Palais Garnier, Stéphane Lissner has chosen a safe bet with this production of Jean-Philippe Rameau's Platée, conducted by Marc Minkowski in a production by Laurent Pelly.

Platée was Rameau's seventh opera and, together with Les Indes Galantes, is his most popular. It was created at Versailles in 1745 on the occasion of the wedding of the Dauphin, the son of Louis XV, with the Infanta of Spain. On an inspired libretto by the dramaturg Jacques Autreau, entitled Platée or Jealous Juno, this musical comedy tells us how the gods of Olympus use Platée, an ugly but vain nymph, to cure Juno of her jealousy of Jupiter.

Philippe Talbot (Platée) © Agathe Poupeney / Opéra national de Paris
Philippe Talbot (Platée)
© Agathe Poupeney / Opéra national de Paris

One has to admit that the 2015 vintage of this operatic Grand Cru, with us since 1999, is a particularly fine one. The success owes a lot to an almost completely new set of singers, which displays young French talent at its best. Credit where credit is due: the tricky mission of following Paul Agnew falls to Philippe Talbot. The voice is clear and assured in the first two acts; the timbre develops from honey to steel like the personality of the swamp nymph: by turns haughty, vain, loving, nymphomaniac and finally undone. In gesture and body language as much as vocally, Talbot is irresistible, especially in his mimicry and his amphibian leaps and bounces. The “sighing” Jupiter is sung by the impeccable François Lis, the only survivor from the 2009 vintage. His ample voice exudes Olympian sovereignty, without neglecting his character's comic aspects.

La Folie (Folly) is Julie Fuchs. Dazzling, a comet streaking across the performance, she makes light of all the difficulties, both vocal and in acting. Her air “Aux langueurs d’Apollon Daphné se refusa” is a triumphant, delirious parody of an Italian-style aria. Taking every risk, she dives into the vocalises with astounding natural, almost casual assurance. And that's not to mention a vocal timbre to die for. And her vocal performance is complemented to perfection by her comic talents, which we first say in 2013 at the Opéra Compique in Michel Fau's Ciboulette. Her commitment is total and she gives every appearance of enjoying it all, well, insanely! You just have to see her stripping the sheets of paper from that now-famous dress, as if she had been playing this role forever, as if she'd been singing at the Opéra de Paris forever. Yet in actual fact, this second night (turned into first night by strike action) was her début. I can't imagine a better revival of this role, on which Mireille Delunsch had so stamped her personality.

Another member of the new French singing scene, Julien Behr plays a Mercury transformed by Pelly into a sort of David Bowie in silver costume. A voice that's flexible but firm, a very attractive, nuanced timbre: this messenger of the gods lacks nothing to accomplish his mission.

Florian Sempey, who is justly being talked about more and more, imparts to Momus all the characteristics of the master of sarcasm, mockery and deviousness. As for the dignity of the god, that can be found in the nobility of voice and diction.

The other roles – Frédéric Antoun (Thespis), Alexandre Duhamel (Satyre, Cithéron), Armelle Khourdoïan (Amour, Clarine), Aurélia Legay (Junon) – are faultless. They turn this wholly French-speaking cast into a model of coherence and cohesion.

Platée à l'Opéra Garnier © Agathe Poupeney / Opéra national de Paris
Platée à l'Opéra Garnier
© Agathe Poupeney / Opéra national de Paris

The acquaintance of Marc Minkowski and his ensemble, “les Musiciens et les Chœurs du Louvre Grenoble,” with the score of Platée is an old one, turned to an intimate friendship. So much so that they astonish us with the precision and fluidity of their orchestral offering. The notes gush from their source, sometimes pirouetting, sometimes enfolding, always filled with vital energy. The match with the staging is always perfect. The humour is ever-present – a Buster Keaton style humour, as Minkowski himself describes it – we smile at the cawings and brayings; we dissove into laughter when, in Act III, a frog jumps down into the orchestra pit and steals the conductor's baton for a few bars.

Julie Fuchs (La Folie) © Agathe Poupeney / Opéra national de Paris
Julie Fuchs (La Folie)
© Agathe Poupeney / Opéra national de Paris
Since its opening, Pelly's production has elicited plenty of eulogies, all of them well deserved. The costumes, designed by Pelly himself, are superb in cut, colour and detail. And the idea of clothing La Folie in an improbable dress constructed from musical scores is a stroke of genius, a brilliant way of transforming this character, usually imagined as merely amusing, into a true incarnation of Music and of Rameau himself.

Even if you've already drunk and loved previous vintages, you should have no hesitation in returning to taste this one. Immoderately.

 

Translated from French by David Karlin

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