The Problem with Platée
Such was my eagerness to hear William Christie’s much anticipated recording of Rameau’s Platée, I had overlooked the problem with the plot…
This is indeed a delightful performance, Christie is a superb interpreter of Rameau, and all involved sound as though they are enjoying themselves.
Except for Platée, who sings in such a grotesque fashion. What’s going on?
Well… Platée, the marsh nymph, is narcissistic and very ugly, and the plot hinges on both those characteristics: they are the crux of the joke that sees Platée slink away, at the end of the opera, publicly humiliated.
Of course, the plot of many operas is not to be taken too seriously, but this one seems especially problematic, it sits so uncomfortably in modern times.
Could the opera be modernised? Well the ending could be changed to remove the humiliation, but that would require the whole plot to change. And if the opera was performed sensitively, the plot would be rendered meaningless.
Perhaps it’s time for Platée to disappear into the history books - should we simply stop performing or recording it?
But it’s such great music. What about keeping just the music and no singing? An orchestral version…
Or perhaps we overlook the problem plot, however cruel, and accept the opera simply as one which breaks all the rules?
Tricky. I’d love to hear what others here think.
@jen, it really is a dilemma when the music is delicious but the plot is mean-spirited and misogynistic.
I'm not sure an orchestral version would be satisfying, though, as so much of the fun is in the singing. But given that misogyny is both age-old and threaded through many of our institutions, whereas misandry is not, maybe a gender turnaround would be enough of a twist to make it work?
maybe a gender turnaround would be enough of a twist to make it work?
That’s a very interesting idea.
Platée, of course, is played by a man and the role is generally hammed up, which poses other challenges to our modern sensibilities.
But, running with your idea of a gender turnaround: If both Platée and Jupiter changed genders (otherwise the plot risks becoming homophobic), does that solve the problem? It would certainly be a thought-provoking twist and that, of itself, raises yet more questions.
But is it ever ok to use and humiliate anyone for being ugly and narcissistic? Or indeed to use and humiliate anyone for any reason?
Hmmm… I wonder… perhaps it was Rameau’s intention to raise such questions of ethics, and for that Platée should be celebrated?