I DISAGREE with the previous reviewer that this issue comes with a 150-page booklet. Nay, it doesn't. This is a cheaper reissue of THAT wonderful issue. Back to the recording:
Cast: Gilles Ragon (Platée), Jennifer Smith (La Folie, Thalie), Guy de Mey (Thespis, Mercure), Vincent le Texier (Jupiter, Un Satyre), Guillemette Laurens (Junon) & Veronique Gens (L'Amour, Clarine)
Ensemble Vocal Francoise Herr & Les Musiciens de Louvre, Marc Minkowski
Platée was written for the celebrations of the wedding in 1745 of Louis, Dauphin of France, son of King Louis XV of France, to the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain, who, according to contemporary sources, like the title character was no beauty. Platée was one of the most highly regarded of Rameau's operas during his lifetime. It even pleased critics who had expressed hostility to his musical style. The reason for this praise may be because these critics saw Platée, a comic opera, paving the way for the lighter form of opera buffa they favoured. Its first public run was very successful and it was later revived in 1750 and again in 1754. The next production would not take place until 1901 in Munich, in a heavily adapted German version by Hans Schilling-Ziemssen. The French version reappeared at a production in Monte Carlo in 1917 but Platée only returned to France at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1956 with young tenor Michel Sénéchal as the queen of frogs, a part which Mr Sénéchal took again in the Opéra-Comique in 1977. The opera made its debut in the United Kingdom in 1983 and in the United States in 1987.
The story of Platée, whose origins lie in classical legend, is treated as a 'bouffonerie' in which the myth is parodied remorselessly rather tastelessly: Platée, herself, a marsh nymph whose appearance is, in some unspecified respect, ridiculous, is an object of derision and eventually the victim of a cruel practical joke. Yet to introduce an element of verismo is thoroughly to misjudge it.
In choosing his libretto Rameau, with foresight, bought it outright from Jacques Autreau, a painter turned writer. Rameau was free to do what he liked with it. He engaged Adrien-Joseph Le Valois d'Orville and Ballot de Sauvot, whom he instructed to emphasize comic aspects and to insert figures of speech such as alliteration and onomatopoeia; such details were much frowned upon by the Academic Royale de Musique, so we can see that Rameau was bent on mischief right from the start.
This two-disc set is the third commercial recording of Platée since 1956 and the one that does fullest justice to Rameau's score. Minkowski is to make two further commercial recordings, one being a DVD.
The first 1956 recording had Michel Sénéchal in the titlerole. His performance is almost legendary, few if any singers capturing as well as he the multifaceted character of Platée, herself: vain, petulant, gullible but pathetic and deserving of our pity. Ragon is a worthy successor, breathing life into a role that is both technically demanding and elusive in character.
The remaining singing cast in this recording is also truly superb, with outstanding contribution from Jennifer Smith as the mischievous, high-spirited La Folie. Her 6/8 ariette in Act 2 is a wonderfully tricksy affair delivered with exemplary skill, being Folly in her true colours. Guy de Mey as Thespis (Prologue) and Mercure, Guillemette Laurens as Junon are all very fine, and the young Véronique Gens is a fresh-sounding L'Amour, and as Clarine, one of Platée's followers.
The orchestra, too, is by and large excellent. While occasionally lacking in finesse, young Muinkowski counterbalanced it by robust, idiomatic playing in the dances and other instrumental movements. There is also sympathetic accompaniment of the voices. In Act 2, the birds' protest at Jupiter's giant owl disguise is vividly executed, while the sour oboe C sharps in the Passepied I in Act 1 are colourfully evocative of the inhabitants of Platée's swampy domain. Rameau's imaginative scoring are well high lighted as for instance in the captivating Musette in Act 3 for piccolos, and bassoons with strings, while in the Entrée gal (Act 3), Minkowski does seem to have driven the music a bit too hard.
Like Malgoire's recording, Minkowski concludes the opera with the three repeated chords at the end of Platee's final defiant outburst. This extraordinary ending is in a sense entirely in keeping with the mischievous spirit of Rameau's score and it is possible that the Versailles performance in 1745 finished in this way. But the full score of that version has not survived, and subsequent editions suggest that the composer intended to conclude with a return to the chorus, "Chantons Platée, egayons nous", which Platée, herself interrupts.
Minkowski uses the Durand score based on the 1749 Paris version in a performing edition prepared by Graham Sadler for the English Bach Festival production in 1983. The opera is given without any cuts and with only a handful of repeats omitted. A truly classic recording of a wonderful piece.