Rameau - Platée (in concert)

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Monday December 2 2019.

Conductor: Alexis Kossenko. Platée: Anders J. Dahlin. Amour, La Folie: Chantal Santon-Jeffery. Jupiter: Thomas Dolié. Thalie, Clarine, Junon: Hasnaa Bennani. Un satyre, Cithéron: Arnaud Richard. Thespis, Mercure: Nicholas Scott. Momus: Victor Sicard. Les Ambassadeurs orchestra and chorus.

With its lively and rather cruel comedy, Platée seems a daring, even rash sort of choice for a concert performance, even with some comical stage business. Monday night's performance wasn't wholly successful, for various reasons, though the absence of sets and costumes did make it possible to focus on the many marvels and musical jokes of Rameau's astonishing score - one of his very best.

Rameau calls for a special and often elusive kind of declamatory oomph and éclat that only some of the cast could deliver in full. Best-cast, to me, was Thomas Dolié, a perfect Rameau baritone, mordant, supple and eloquent. Chantal Santon-Jeffery makes a darker, slightly plummier Folie than we may have in mind, for no fault of hers (Pelly's production, at the Palais Garnier and on video, with Minkowski in the pit, Paul Agnew as Platée and Mireille Delunsch as La Folie, has really marked this work). This meant a touch less of that elusive éclat than I'd personally have liked, but she was otherwise well on top of her astonishingly vivid and varied rôle, calling for pathos, albeit feigned, as well as zany madness - and in terms of comic acting, stole the show with her impatient yawns, as she waited to sing, and some hilarious business with her smartphone - snapping the chorus and the audience and eventually taking selfies with a gentleman on the front row, to while away the time.

Nicholas Scott made a cheeky Thespis and Mercure and certainly also mastered the haute contre range, which is all to the good; but it might be useful if he could work on eliminating an eventually wearisome vocal 'tic': starting a note very quiet, then opening it out into something piercingly loud. Hasnaa Bennani was adequate as Thalie and Clarine, though even then she didn't seem totally in control of her voice; she lacked the necessary energy (that oomph I mentioned) for Junon's jealous fury.

Rameau
Platée should, of course, be the star of this show. Anders J. Dahlin was, on the whole, more artistic than audible: in recitative-type passages, with a quiet accompaniment, he was wonderfully musical, but in arias - rapid passages especially - over a full orchestra, we could, I'm afraid barely hear or understand him. He composed a wistful, relatively placid sort of character, more through poses and expressions than actual movement, so dramatically, as well as in volume, he was somewhat eclipsed by the rest of the cast.

The orchestra attacked the dazzling score with a great deal of vigour and virtuosity - the storm, for example, was wonderfully furious - and conductor Alexis Kossenko joined in the comic antics with gusto. They also played with some nuance ('Hymen, Hymen, l'Amour t'appelle' was gorgeous - as a 'chef d'oeuvre de l'harmonie' should be), but I'd have liked even more variety of orchestral colour and dynamic range: to my ear, the overall sound was too uniform and, mostly, forte or above.

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