Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Non, it's not easy being green ...

When it comes to opera and wine, I like the 40-weight stuff: A good syrah and something heavy like La Boheme, Madame Butterfly and Carmen.

But we recently jumped at the chance to see an opera -- any opera -- at the spectacularly beautiful Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. Turns out it was the opening night of a light, comic opera titled Platee and written by a French composer named Jean-Phillippe Rameau in 1745.

First, this building makes Lincoln Center, which I love, look like a poor cousin. Ordered by Napoleon III and completed around 1874, it's simply an incredible space. The discovery of a hidden lake on the site, and some "mysterious" deaths during construction, helped inspire The Phantom of the Opera. The ceiling was painted in the early '60s by Marc Chigall.

As for the opera, I wasn't expecting much. The English translation of the synopsis explained the thin plot: Juno was jealous of Jupiter, so Mercury decides to stage a fake wedding between Juniper and Platee, the Frog Queen. The idea was that Juno would find that whole idea so ludicrous that she'd forget to be mad.

The staging and costuming and choreography totally updated the centuries-old piece. It opened on a stage designed to look like a theater with seats very much like the ones we in the audience are sitting in. Mercury looks like James Dean in a cool suit. The Frog Queen is a man. The diva is costumed in a dress of sheet music pages, which she pulls off in random swipes and hands to the startled musicians in the pit. A lovelorn Frog Man sits in a mezzanine seat then climbs a rope ladder into the orchestra.

I still prefer La Boheme, but Platee provided quite a night of entertainment -- and I didn't even mention yet the dance that mimed couples figuring out how to have sex. (Foot in an armpit? No. Elbow to the head? No.)

- Michael K

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