Doesn't art offer moral instruction? Shouldn't we leave the opera house
better able to understand ourselves, prepared to lead a finer, nobler life? Nope. Not if this crazy salad of a show has anything to say about it. Go for superficial pleasure, for frivolity, indulge yourself in irresponsible, jaw-dropping foolishness. Our lives are too short not to.
At any rate, that's how Rameau and Pelly consider the situation. There's a plot of sorts: Jupiter wants to teach his eternally jealous Juno a lesson. Platée, an amorous, elderly, available frog and Jupiter's chosen victim/fiancée, is duped into believing herself irresistible to the ruler of the gods. His mock courtship and almost-marriage to this swampy green heroine will, when her verdant charms are unveiled, show the folly of Juno's jealousy. Universal laughter and, supposedly, connubial content ensue --- for everybody except the frog.
Pelly sets the Prologue in a steeply raked, red plush theater auditorium that gradually, spectacularly decomposes into a seedy, reedy, algae-encrusted swamp by opera's end. In good French baroque style, musical numbers alternate between the placidly static and the ecstatically frenetic. There's plenty of the latter, especially in the extended dance episodes that comprise perhaps a third of this Terpsichorean divine comedy.
Tuxedoed chorus boys buck and wing their way through a frantic tambourin. Bathing-costumed frogs perform strenuous calisthenics, break dance included. Tempest-tossed wind maenads throw themselves about the stage with abandon. In an extended divertissement, the goddess Folly arrives, gratuitously and delightfully accompanied by a crew of dancers direct from a Monty Python version of Swan Lake.
In yet another diversion of five couples, each executes a bone-crunching, grotesque, can-you-top-this pas de deux that ignores the limitations of
the human body. When you can't believe there's any more to come, there's more---including a gymnastic-contortionist dog and a show-stopping impersonation of the Three Graces that's part Les Ballets Trockadero, part Pilobolus. The infinitely ingenious choreography is by Laura Scozzi, assisted by Olivier Sferlazza.
Baroque specialist Harry Bicket leads the band, which has never sounded better in this, its finest performance of the season: flexible, nuanced, getting into all those notes inégales, shakes, mordents and suchlike ornamental canoodles of the period. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt sings the title nymph with sympathy, flair and, finally, pathos. Heidi Stober's Folly commands the stage, commands the orchestra, commands her tricky role.
In other roles, all well taken, are David Pittsinger as the satyr Cithéron, Norman Reinhardt as a rock star Mercury, and Joshua Hopkins as Momus. The well-schooled chorus, Gregory Buchalter in charge, performs dazzling feats of perpetual motion. Scenic design, witty and effective, is by Chantal Thomas and adapted by Caroline Ginet, and the complicated, to say the least, lighting scheme is by Duane Schuler.
Pelly designed the high-style, high-camp costumes which, as in his previous two shows here, knock our socks off. His purpose is to please and does he ever, though at times a discomforting edginess underlies all that furious pleasure-seeking. At the finish, the forsaken and furious Platée threatens a fatal watery revenge on the whole pack of mockers and plotters. Aprés moi, le déluge, she might have said. Maybe, like an amphibian Cassandra, she was right.
On a more mundane note, this season's opera strollers will find a small but significant addition to the opera theater's southerly Tobin Terrace, so designated to honor the late Robert LB Tobin, generous friend and benefactor of the SFO for many years. This summer's Platée is underwritten by The Tobin Endowment.
That addition? A quietly installed, modest and elegant bas-relief of Tobin by Tesuque sculptor Norman Boyles. It's no substitute for the real thing---Tobin's larger-than-life presence, his scarlet-lined opera cape and silver-headed cane defy replication. But it's a graceful momento of the man's generosity to the SFO and, on a very minor scale, of his gratefully received summertime deliveries of cases of scotch whisky to a few favored friends.
Wednesday, Aug. 1
Various times and dates
Through Aug. 22
Santa Fe Opera
seven miles north of