Platée (Plataea) is an opera in a prologue and three acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau with a libretto by Adrien-Joseph Le Valois d'Orville. Rameau bought the rights to the libretto Platée ou Junon Jalouse (Plataea, or Juno Jealous) by Jacques Autreau (1657–1745) and had d'Orville modify it. The ultimate source of the story is a myth related by the Greek writer Pausanias in his Guide to Greece.
Rameau's first attempt at comic opera, the plot concerns an ugly water nymph who believes that Jupiter, the king of the gods, is in love with her. The work was initially called a ballet bouffon, though it was later styled a comédie lyrique, putting it in the same category as Rameau's Les Paladins. It was written for the celebrations of the wedding 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. Instead of getting the composer into trouble, the entertainment at Versailles seems to have been well received, and Rameau was appointed a few months later to the position of Composer of the King's Chamber Music with a sizable annual pension.
The opera was first performed on 31 March 1745 at the Grande Écurie, Versailles.
Background to the opera
Comic opera was relatively rare during the Baroque era in France and the musicologist Cuthbert Girdlestone expresses his surprise that none of Rameau's contemporaries seem to have remarked on the innovative nature of Platée. Rameau may have been inspired by a revival of an earlier comic opera, Les amours de Ragonde by Jean-Joseph Mouret, in 1742, or by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier's comic opera-ballet, Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse from 1743.
Performance history and reception
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 during the Querelle des Bouffons (an argument over the relative merits of French and Italian opera). Melchior Grimm called it a "sublime work" and even Rameau's bitter enemy Jean-Jacques Rousseau referred to it as "divine". 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.
The work received one performance at the marriage festivities at Versailles in 1745. Little is known about this production, except that the title role was taken by the haute-contre Pierre Jélyotte, a famous character actor. Rameau revised the opera in collaboration with the librettist Ballot de Sovot and presented it at the Opéra in Paris on 9 February 1749. Its first public run was very successful and it was later revived in 1750 and again in 1754, always starring in the title role the second haute-contre of the Opéra, La Tour. According to Rodolfo Celletti, the role of Platée performed by La Tour was the highest haute-contre part ever written by Rameau. The 1754 revival was part of the continuing Querelle des Bouffons, pitted against Leonardo Leo's Italian opera buffa, I viaggiatori. Platée was last performed complete during Rameau's lifetime in 1759.
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 Netherlands in 1968, in the United Kingdom in 1983 and in the United States in 1987.
Platée came back to the Paris Opera in April 1999 in a version that was to become later a DVD, with Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, then Paul Agnew, in the title part in a production by Laurent Pelly conducted by Marc Minkowski. The opera was also presented as a co-production of New York City Opera and the Mark Morris Dance Group, directed by Mark Morris during the 1997 Edinburgh Festival, a production that toured often from then in London and the USA. It was also staged by the Santa Fe Opera as part of the Summer 2007 Festival season in an adaptation of the Paris Opéra production also directed by Laurent Pelly, with many of the same production team, and conducted by Harry Bicket. Among the singers who were regarded as remarkable in the title role, were Michel Sénéchal, Gilles Ragon, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, and Paul Agnew.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast 
31 March 1745
(Conductor: - )
|2nd version cast 
9 February 1749
(Conductor: - )
|Prologue: La Naissance de la Comédie/ The birth of the Comedy|
|Thespis, inventor of comedy||haute-contre
|La Tour (also spelled Latour) ||François Poirier|
|Momus, god of satire||bass baritone||Albert ||Lamarre (also spelled La Marre) |
|Thalie, muse of comedy||soprano||Marie Fel||Marie-Angélique Coupé|
|Amour/ Love||soprano||Marie-Angélique Coupé
(also spelled Couppé or Coupée)
|M.lle Rosalie |
|Un satire/a satyr||bass baritone||Benoit ||Person |
|Vendangeuses/ Vintaging girls||sopranos||M.lles Cartou and Dalman ||M.lles Cartou and Marie-Madeleine Jendrest, m.lle Chefdeville|
|Ballet (comédie lyrique)|
|Cithéron, King of the Mountain||bass baritone||François Le Page (also spelled Lepage)||François Le Page|
|Mercure/ Mercury, the messenger god||haute-contre||Jean Antoine Bérard||François Poirier|
|Platée, a travesti role||haute-contre||Pierre Jélyotte||La Tour|
|Clarine, maidservant to Platée||soprano||M.lle Bourbonnais ||Marie-Angélique Coupé|
|Une naiade/ a naiad, another maidservant to Platée||soprano||M.lle Metz ||?|
|Jupiter, king of the gods||bass baritone||Claude-Louis-Dominique Chassé de Chinais||Person|
|La Folie/ Folly||soprano||Marie Fel||Marie Fel|
|Junon/ Juno, wife of Jupiter||soprano||Marie-Jeanne Fesch, "m.lle Chevalier||Louise Jacquet|
or bass baritone
(also spelled Cuvilliers or Cuvelier)
|Animals, scholars, chorus, dancers|
After a night of partying, the Chorus wakes Thespis from a drunken sleep. When Thalie and Momus arrive, they seek Thespis' help in planning the presentation of an entertainment in which they will recreate a long-ago attempt by Jupiter to cure his wife, Juno, of her jealousy. Initially left out of the planning, a furious Love arrives on the scene and proclaims that it will be impossible to stage the event without her: "how could there be a play without the inspiration of love?" she asks. All four then lay out the plan.
In the middle of a raging storm, Mercury comes down from the heavens and explains to Citheron that it is caused by Juno's jealousy and that he has been sent by Jupiter to find a way of taking his mind off the problem. Citheron's solution is to propose the enactment of the plan put together by the four conspirators: Jupiter will pretend to fall in love with the ugly marsh nymph, Platée - who is convinced that everything that comes near her pond is madly in love with her - and, when Juno finds them together and about to marry, she will realize that her jealousy is baseless and the couple will be re-united.
After Platée arrives, Mercury leaves to inform Jupiter. While she seems to believe that it is Cithéron who is in love with her - in spite of his denials - she is delighted to hear from Mercury that Jupiter will soon descend from the heavens and declare his love: "The god of thunder, drawn to earth by your beauty, wishes to cast at your feet both his heart and the Universe" A new storm created by Juno bursts forth, but Platée is not put out and the marsh creatures retreat to their watery homes.
Having sent Juno off to Athens, Mercury and Cithéron find a hiding place to observe the proceedings. Accompanied by Momus, Jupiter arrives, revealing himself first as a donkey (to the accompanying sounds of donkey braying from the orchestra), then as an owl, and finally, in person in a clap of thunder and bright light. An extended divertissment proceeds, including a show-stopping highlight in which La Folie (Madness) sings the story of Apollo and Daphne as a warning to Platée not to get involved with Jupiter. Dancers and singers alternately praise and mock Platée.
As people arrive for the marriage of Jupiter and Platée, a furious-at-being-tricked Juno has returned from Athens but she is persuaded to hide until the right moment. Momus appears, poorly disguised as Love, and offers "gifts" to Platée. Jupiter and Platée begin to take part in the wedding ceremony, but, stalling after his initial "I swear", he awaits the arrival of Juno. When she finally sees Platée and removes her veil, she realizes that it was all a joke. The gods ascend back to heaven and the humiliated Platée leaps back into the pond.
Opera House and Orchestra
Orchestre de la Société du Conservatoire
|Audio CD: EMI
Vincent Le Texier,
Guy de Mey
Les Musiciens du Louvre
|Audio CD: WEA International
Vincent Le Texier,
Opéra National de Paris,
Orchestra and Chorus of Les Musiciens du Louvre - Grenoble
- Girdlestone p.436
- Holden, p. 838
- Girdlestone p.336
- Ivan A. Alexandre p.28
- Girdlestone p.439
- Girdlestone p.440
- the first performance was originally scheduled for February the 4th, but had to be postponed on account of the death of the Duchess of Orleans (Le magazine de l'opéra baroque - Page: Platée; the Duchess is stated to have been "the Regent's mother": in fact, she had been the wife of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans at the time of the Regency)
- sources neither report any first names for La Tour (also often spelled ‘Latour’), nor any dates of birth and of death, nor any other significant biographical notes referring to his life outside the Opéra: it is only reported that the singer must still be alive in 1786, “when his name was included in a list or retirees still receiving pensions” from the Académie Royale (Spire Pitou, The Paris Opéra. An Encyclopedia of Operas, Ballets, Composers, and Performers – Rococo and Romantic, 1715-1815, Greenwood Press, Westport/London, 1985 (ISBN 0-313-24394-8), p. 326; see also: Le magazine de l'opéra baroque, “Les chanteurs à l’époque baroque”, ad nomen). The site Amadeusonline alone reports a supposed full name “Georges Imbart de La Tour”, name which is however also ascribed by the same source to another tenor, whose date of birth (28 May 1865) is also reported, as well as a part of his repertoire. Considering that this latter tenor is proved to have certainly lived by the EMI recording of his voice, and that the numerous inaccuracies and errors which can be found in the Almanac of Amadeusonline render its reliability as a sole source problematic, it has been preferred, in this article, to retain the traditional reference to the eighteenth century haute-contre, simply as “La Tour”
- (Italian) "La Scuola vocale francese e Rameau", p. 90, in Storia dell'Opera (ideata da Guglielmo Barblan e diretta da Aberto Basso), UTET, Torino, 1977, vol. III/1
- according to Rameau Le Site (accessed 2 October 2010)
- according to Le magazine de l'opéra baroque (accessed 3 October 2010)
- first name unknown
- according to Rameau Le Site, this mute is credited to Cuvillier, as well as the singing character of Momus, but it seems to be impossible, because both characters appear together on stage
- Mays, p.57
- Alexandre, Ivan A., Notes from the CD recording of Platée conducted by Marc Minkowski
- Girdlestone, Cuthbert, Jean-Philippe Rameau: His Life and Work, New York: Dover Publications, 1969 ISBN 0-486-21416-8
- Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
- Mays, Desirée, "Platée", Opera Unveiled, Volume 9, Santa Fe: Art Forms Inc., 2007 ISBN 978-0-9707822-6-7
- Sadler, Graham, et al., The New Grove French Baroque Masters: Lully, Charpentier, Lalande, Couperin, Rameau, Scranton, Pennsylvania: Norton & Co, 1986 ISBN 0-393-30352-7