Marcel Beekman, Jeanine De Bique, Cyril Auvity, Marc Mauillon; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
Harmonia Mundi HAF8905349.50 134:01 mins (2 discs)
William Christie’s Platée is a hard-won triumph. In 2014, heart surgery kept him from conducting the premiere of the opera’s new production which opened at Theater an der Wien. Leading its 2020 revival with most of the same performers, Christie faced an empty house as Covid-19 forced audiences to watch remotely.
Platée is a parody, and a masterpiece. Rameau weaponised French serious opera to satirise his society’s ills, mixing beauty with mockery. Action revolves around Platée, an ill-favoured swamp nymph longing for love. Jupiter, hoping to cure Juno of her jealousy, pretends to love Platée, whose ugliness will convince Juno that he never intended to stray. Platée is humiliated.
To dramatise this cruel tale, Rameau toggles between elegance in instrumental movements and noble dances, and satire in pseudo-tragic solos and overblown choruses. Under Christie, overtures and dances are terse, with tense articulation and precise meter. While carefully shaping soloists’ ensembles, Christie gives tenor Marcel Beekman, cross-dressed in the title role, the latitude needed to nail his part. Beekman is riveting, his outrageous vocalism creating a Platée who is ludicrous yet sympathetic. The band shows its mettle by making the contrast between straight and comic French Baroque execution unmistakable.
But without a live audience, the first-act soloists strain to impress, and by Act II the chorus entries get a bit sloppy. The stunning visuals of this Platée production eclipse such momentary musical lapses, so you might want the DVD as well.