There is no doubt that Jean-Philippe Rameau was the best Franch-born opera composer of the Eighteenth Century. Although he came remarkably late to the genre, he was helped by longevity and he dominated lyrical creation in Paris from 1733 to 1760.
His works for the stage covered a wide range: "tragédie lyrique", such as his first opera , "Hippolyte et Aricie", written at 50 and fortunately seen here; "pastorale"; "ballet héroïque" (in fact an alternation of ballet and singing parts), such as "Les Indes Galantes", semistaged at the Colón in 2002; "opéra"; "opéra-comique"; "comédie ballet"; "ballet bouffon", such as the "Platée" I´m reviewing; "acte de ballet"; "divertissement"; "tragédie"; "ballet"; "fête"; "opéra-ballet"; "pastorale héroïque"; "ballet allégorique".
Rameau brought the "opéra-ballet" (that singularly French variety of stage entertainment) to its highest level. There is ballet even in the tragedies: the aforementioned "Hippolyte et Aricie" and the only Rameau opera staged twice in B.A., "Castor et Pollux" (Colón, 1936, and some years ago at a strange venue, the Planetario).
There is a vexed question in the matter of the French Baroque revival, not just here but in Europe. When it started about forty years ago the intent was to do it as faithful as possible to the original stagings. And that meant the necessity of an exhumation of the true Baroque ballet, without points (they came in the following century). A specialised ensemble was created, Ris et Danceries, and we had the good luck of appreciating that particular style when they visited us at the Cervantes decades ago. A valuable consequence was that the Instituto Superior de Arte of the Colón had master classes from a member of that group, Ana Yepes.
Of course, costumes and makeup were like those of the Eighteenth Century, and at the small Versailles theatre some of the characteristic machines and special effects of the time were evoked. The musical directors of Baroque ensembles initially approved, and some integrated jewels of interpretation were obtained. But then the cancer of "aggiornamento" started to grow and stagings became more and more absurd, until there was a complete dissociation between the music and the staging. And that is the general lamentable state of the art nowadays, although there are exceptions. When there are, my European colleagues condemn them...
"Platée" is the only Rameau opera specifically called "ballet bouffon". And indeed it is that. There are two versions: during February 23-March 31 Versailles saw the celebrations of the wedding between Louis, the Dauphin, with the infanta María Teresa Rafaela of Spain, and for it two works by Rameau were presented: "La Princesse de Navarre" and "Platée"; however, the latter wasn´t liked by some, it was deemed obscene. Nevertheless, Louis XV named Rameau the King´s Chamber Music Composer.
Some years later it was revised and offered at Paris´ Académie Royale de Musique (in fact, the Paris Opéra) and it was a great success. The original libretto by Adrien-Joseph Le Valois d´Orville on an idea by Jacques Autreau was modified by Ballot de Savot. Voltaire had panned the original opera, Rousseau praised the revision.
The story is simple: Jupiter is assailed by Juno´s jealousy; a spoof is prepared: Jupiter will seem in love with a horridly ugly nymph of the swamps, Platée; they get to the ceremony of marriage, and at the last moment Juno irately intervenes, but when she sees Platée´s face she breaks into laughter. The poor nymph is ridiculed and spews stormy invectives.
The music is marvelously ingenious: with imaginative orchestration and harmony plus a variety of rhythms and melodies it pictures ideally every situation. There are plenty of other characters, especially an unexpected one, La Folie (Madness), who takes Platée´s side.
This was the joint presentation of Marcelo Birman´s Compañía de las Luces, the Ballet de la Bienal Arte Joven and the Orquesta Barroca Nuevo Mundo from Rancagua (Chile), and the soloists were a mix of Argentine and Chilean singers. The wildly modern and kitschy production and choreography were respectively by Pablo Maritano and Carlos Trunsky. The venue was the main hall of the Usina del Arte, there were two performances (I saw the second) and it was frantically successful.
The high tenor Alexis Ezequiel Sánchez did a remarkably effective job as the outsized and grotesque nymph; both in his funny and ridiculous gestures and his good singing he managed a very difficult part with complete lack of inhibition. There was a brilliant cast around "her": Patricia Cifuentes as a supersonic Madness and as Clarine, Evelyn Ramírez as Juno, Norberto Marcos (Jupiter), Pablo Pollitzer (both Thespis and Mercure), Sergio Carlevaris (a lanky bass Momus), Patricio Sabaté (Cithéron/Un satyre) and Soledad Molina (Amour). The work of the combined orchestra and the choir was wholly admirable, showing again the excellence of Birman in this repertoire. The dancers were flexible and gamely adapted to the libidinous situations.
As to the staging, I admit it was funny, but I am of the traditional persuasion. I disliked the constant androgynous ambiguity of the choreography and the cheap "porteño" associations, but there was unbridled stage business and the spirit of "Platée" is indeed wild. Only, what I saw collided with the exquisite music all the time. It irks me but fusion and transgression are liked by current audiences; I am an old fogey and defend other values. What matters most is that "Platée" was premièred in a brave joint effort.
For Buenos Aires Herald