Ever since the Danish conductor Lars Ulrik Mortensen announced that the best opera of all times (and he meant it) was Rameau’s Les Boréades I have been looking a bit into this French baroque composer and that has caused a mild case of Rameau-addiction. It culminated today when I found two dvd’s in the library, borrowed them and watched them! One is Les Boréades that I already had seen and the other was Platée that I had only listened to previously. Both of them are recorded at the Opéra National de Paris.
Platée is humorous while Les Boréades is mainly serious. And I love them both. Not only is the music and the musicianship superb (conductors and baroque specialists Minkowski and Christie make sure everything is perfect) also the productions are wonderful. I actually thought that the stagings were by the same person but it turned out to be two different guys: Laurent Pelly (Platée) and Robert Carsen (Boréades. He’s an old favourite of mine). They are both modern and very well conceived.
Platée is about a stupidly vain nymph who is almost a frog.
Froggy in a nice skirt made out of a flower. Aw
For the fun of deceiving her and his wife Jupiter courts Platée and she becomes the laughingstock of heaven and earth (poor little froggy-girl). At her mock wedding with Jupiter, Folly turns up. Folly is a young, beautiful woman who is, of course, quite silly. The wondrous internet provides us with one of my favourite scenes showing Folly in all her glory. Look here. I especially like it when she tears off one of the music sheets her dress is made of to sing from the notes. She sings a very high note but then realises the page is upside down, turns it and accordingly sings a very low note.
And if you want to see Platée in all her glory look here. You may be surprised by her voice, but as you might have guessed she is impersonated by a man, the nice tenor Paul Agnew.
Paul Agnew also turns up in Les Boréades, now in a less green disguise, as the mild Abaris, lover of Alphisa the poor queen who by law has to marry a son of the North Wind – Boreas.
One of the most stunning scenes of this production is in the very beginning when Alphisa is courted by the two sons of Boreas. When they arrive she is reluctantly standing in the middle of a flower field but as the sons with their train move over the stage towards her the field is slowly harvested at their feet. Such a sad and beautiful sight. Or how about when dancers spread snow by spinning upside down umbrellas so that the snowflakes they contain are centrifuged onto the stage.
The whole visual side of the production focuses on the contrasts between colourful love and black and cold duty. It is very taut and my aesthetic art historian-heart loves it.
In this photo you can faintly see another old friend from Platée to the extreme right: Laurent Naouri. I have been wondering a lot if he is a hammerhead, but no, I’m afraid he isn’t even though I would want him to be, so I wont post his portrait. Anyhow he has a great bass baritone voice.
Both operas have a lot of ballet intermezzi which normally would totally make me fast forward but not in these choreographies. They are funny, marvellous and beautiful.
So my warmest recommendations for Rameau on dvd!