In a society drifting apart, it is not hard to imagine that the gods have become self centered, conniving, and use their powers to satisfy their own longings rather than feeling obliged to serve the whole and make the world a better place.
You could meet them as people in bars or trendy clubs, intoxicated, and in the middle of sexual excesses in the back rooms of modern luxury hiding places.
And you can meet them in a new production of ‘Platée’, by Jean-Philippe Rameau, at the Neukölln in Berlin.
Robert Lehmeier stages the god of gods Jupiter, his wife Juno, Amor, the god of theatre Thespis, and the jester Momus, as a bored group of jet setters that have seen and done everything. Between bars and swimming pools they wait, impatiently and lethargically at the same time, for someone to come up with an idea on how to waste away the next hour in some entertaining way. The ideal victim for such a cynical and deviant conversation is the outcast member of the clique, Platée. Still marked by the emotionally vacant group, she is the only one on the search for real emotions.
It is comical and fun, with Lehmeier’s sharp and analytic sight on the inner feelings of the cynical protagonists.
This is also heard in Rameau’s fantastic music. Wildly changing between intimate melodies of graceful beauty and flogging dancing rhythms, Rameau shows off his talent for psychological analyses of the figures and for musical dramaturgy. One moment Thespis falls into happy laughter, and then suddenly the choir turns to taunting before changing quickly back and singing in a fake fervour. A violin suddenly comments on Platée’s serious sighs, with ironic ornaments. Charming exaggerations and lovely valuables switch back and forth, as does pure fun with great seriousness.
My part, the roles of both Thepsis and Mercury, is the one of the creator and of the devious idea to expose and embarrass Platée. Like an evil ghost he scurries through the action, with Momus, to keep the scheme going. Infected by Platée’s unashamedly direct and real emotions, he discovers new sides of himself, emotional states he isn’t used to and that he finds himself unable to deal with …
Mercury and, even more so, Thepsis, are written in a unique pitch. In France this skill is known as ‘Haut Contre Ténor’, and demands singing over long periods and over the Passagio of the tenor, similar to Mozart’s ‘Ferrando in Cosi fan Tutte’ and the swan in Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’. This explains the extended challenge for the singer. Absolute security in the transition from the chest to the head voice is the premise to master this ambitious part.
And a joy in performing is necessary. After all, this piece is made to be performed with a lively, expressive ensemble.
January 2013, at the Neuköllner Oper Berlin