Is New York ready for an ugly Baroque swamp nymph?

Tue Apr 1, 2014 10:05am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

PARIS (Reuters) - German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld is a household name; 18th-century French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau isn't. But the two have been doing quite well together in a European opera now heading briefly to New York.

Two hundred and fifty years after Rameau's death, a revival of his 1745 opera "Platee" about an unsightly swamp nymph who falls for the god Jupiter - dressed in Lagerfeld-like black and cradling a white cat resembling the designer's prized "Choupette" - is to have a one-night stand in the Big Apple this week after successful runs in Vienna and Paris.

Some of Rameau's other musically rich if implausibly plotted operas are also making the rounds of Europe for his anniversary.

"The theatre of the 17th and 18th century has a real harmony with our period, it's very edgy," Canadian director Robert Carsen, who dreamt up the fashionista-themed production of "Platee", said in a telephone interview from Zurich.

Performances of such operas are not unknown in the United States and elsewhere, but Europe, with its keen interest in the period-instrument movement that tries to replicate the sound of old orchestras and ensembles, has embraced them as nowhere else.

The one-off performance by the Paris-based period-instrument group Les Arts Florissants at New York's Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday will be a concert version. It will miss out on the spectacular, fashion-inspired staging at Vienna's Theater an der Wien and Paris' Opera Comique, where it ended a sold-out run on Sunday. But the singers, musicians and dancers will be the same.

In Carsen's production of Rameau's opera, the nymph is sung by an in-drag high-tenor Marcel Beekman. The curtain opened on the bar of the swank Ritz hotel with a stage full of fashion groupies sipping designer cocktails and fooling around with other substances.

It featured a mirrored staircase modeled on the one in the designer Coco Chanel's famous Paris flat - the ultimate space in which to see and be seen. The character of "La Folie" (Madness), who sings the opera's most famous aria, warning Platee that she is deluded if she believes Jupiter really loves her, wore a succession of outfits worthy of Lady Gaga.   Continued...