Pinchgut’s hotly-anticipated Platée starts not with – but after – a bang. It’s the messy morning after a bawdy wedding. Our hungover guests (Cantillation, Pinchgut’s chorus) lie unconscious in the party debris until the overture (the outrageously stylish Orchestra of the Antipodes) gets them up and vomiting into the nearest champagne bucket. A satyr in his underwear (Adrian Tamburini) breaks the hungover silence (“Heaven pours out its sweetest powers here”), prompting my guest to remark “I didn’t know Vin Diesel could sing!” Yes, the Satyr looks like Vin Diesel and yes, Pinchgut is cool like that. I’d just never seen them this cool, and within ten minutes I’d decided this was clearly five-star cool, it was that good.

Adrian Tamburini (Cithéron), Kanen Breen (Platée) and Nicholas Jones (Mercury)
© Brett Boardman

A lot of the coolness is due to the directorial touch of the legendary Neil Armfield (assisted by Eugene Lynch), long-established in theatre and opera but collaborating with Pinchgut for the first time. Armfield’s theatrical sensibilities combined with Pinchgut director Erin Helyard’s musical prowess is electrifying. This Platée is everything you could want: performance-driven, musically thrilling, theatrically inventive (Sean Bacon’s video is a highlight), and touchingly human. That says a lot since the plot is so fluffy, even for an opera. A story within a story, Platée has the wedding guests act out a comedy where Jupiter, king of the gods, enters into a mock wedding with the vain marsh nymph Platée to teach his wife Juno a lesson.

Cathy-Di Zhang (Amour)
© Brett Boardman

Rameau caused a stir in 1745 when he wrote the traditionally heroic tenor part as a deluded female nymph. Almost three hundred years later, the role seems created for the wonderful Kanen Breen. A diversely talented character artist, Breen’s unique combination of operatic, cabaret and dramatic gifts carry Platée in a way few others could. Avoiding caricature, his Platée is nuanced and endearing. Despite her ludicrous vanity, behind the green curls and pink glitter boots, Breen reminds that most of us have also experienced a love that promised the world but ended in heartbreaking shame. One is genuinely moved by the tragicomic montage where Platée imagines her future with Jupiter – the husband, house, puppy and (as she tenderly hugs a toy cradle, eyes closed with emotion), a child. But it is the final scene, where the mask drops and Platée lashes out in writhing humiliation, that Breen leaps into that thrilling space where all his talents soar. Beauty and ugliness combust to create a searing vocal and dramatic intensity, propelling the opera into new and unexpected dimensions just before the lights blow out.

Kanen Breen (Platée) and Peter Coleman-Wright (Jupiter)
© Brett Boardman

Breen is surrounded by a cast of equally dazzling combined talent, even by Pinchgut’s usual stratospheric standards. Opera royalty Peter Coleman-Wright and Cheryl Barker amp up the star wattage as the vocally seasoned Jupiter and queen-bee Juno. Barker is very funny with her ugly crying, sneaky backstage alcohol, and effortlessly diva coloratura.

Cathy-Di Zhang plays Love/Madness (Amour/La Folie) with reckless glamour. I liked her especially as Madness where – black lipsticked, swaying on a table, and wildly brandishing an electric guitar (“Apollo’s lyre, which I have just stolen”) – she channelled a rock goddess and sang “Let our music outshine all other concerts!” in a creamily dark coloratura.

Cathy-Di Zhang (Amour) and Chorus
© Brett Boardman

The night’s scene-stealer was Nicholas Jones (Thespis/Mercury). Theatrically dashing and vocally effortless, his burnished singing had an unaffected spontaneity that made all his scenes just plain exciting. “What will Mercury do (or sing) next?” you wondered as Jones jumped the balustrades, his LED sneakers illuminating as he landed, cat-like, on the stage. The wonderful David Greco (Momus) and Tamburini (Satyr/Cithéron) enhanced the evening with assured vocal mastery and comic deftness. Greco’s pantyhose scene has to be one of the highlights of the operatic year.

You can also see why Chloe Lankshear (Clarine) is Pinchgut’s inaugural Taryn Fiebig scholar. Her “O sun, flee this place” had a resonant clarity that melded gorgeously with the oboe lines. Amy Moore (Thalie) provided a lovely warm soprano.

Cheryl Barker (Juno) and Peter Coleman-Wright (Jupiter)
© Brett Boardman

Special credit goes to movement director Shannon Burns. The outstanding physicality of this Platée is a huge part of why it bursts with exuberance. Stephen Curtis’ set and Alexander Berlage’s lighting is similarly on point – everything is glowing, fresh, and either very chic or ironically kitsch.

Helyard again leads from the harpsichord, the orchestra placed centre-stage by Armfield as “the heart of the production”, baptising the audience with everything from rock-god pizzicato to melting laments and riotous dance numbers. Watch out for Simon Rickard on the musette (a Baroque French bagpipe). Cantillation was, as usual, an outstanding chorus. After all, it’s not every day you can hear one of the country’s best vocal ensembles dressed as frogs and singing like an amphibian Brady Bunch (“Quoi? Quoi?”).

Pinchgut’s Platée is the kind of frog you should want to kiss. It's frankly outstanding. Go see it now, and don’t forget to wear your coolest outfit.

*****