We need no reminder that the pandemic is not over. A veil of anxiety will be lingering for a long time yet, making one’s choice in being at the theatre a need like never before to satisfy a hunger for its benefits.
In this context, Pinchgut Opera latest production, Jean-Philippe Rameau’s comic gem, Platée, is an assured tonic and a must-have ticket for the therapy it provides on our road to recovery. Platée is yet another outstanding success from this visionary team.
In his company debut, director Neil Armfield brings multi-faceted inventiveness and entertaining zing to this 276 year old comédie lyrique, a work composed to celebrate the royal marriage of Louis, Dauphin of France and the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain in 1745.
On entering the recital hall, there is a wedding cake on a long banquet table as part of a white-iced-like space strewn with confetti coloured party detritus. An inscribed heart tells us it’s Cheryl and Peter’s wedding party, alluding to the marriage of Juno (Cheryl Barker) and Jupiter (Peter Coleman-Wright).
The late night isn’t over, however. Centre stage, the musicians are gearing up for some playing and Red Bull is passed around to a floor full of hungover guests dressed, or half dressed, in loose-fitting whites giving the feel of a Mediterranean Greek Island. Or Noosa, perhaps! – Stephen Curtis’s design work is altogether instructive and evocatively breezy.
Cheryl and Peter are long gone but there’s a plan to present an entertainment to cure Juno of her raging jealousies.
Based on a Greek myth, the story concerns the unbecoming and deluded water nymph Platée who is tricked into marrying Jupiter as a way of making Juno realise her jealousy is unfounded. Convinced that the great god had fallen in love with her, Platée’s humiliation is sealed as the heavenly couple reunite in happiness.
On the surface, the entertainment is priceless while underneath Armfield’s input elicits a chock full of thoughts and ideas that milk every moment of physical and emotional possibility. Platée, a part written for male voice, belongs to a minority and Armfield makes it impossible not to feel her humiliation is our shame.
For this, Armfield couldn’t have wished for anyone more capable as a vessel for his wildly flirtatious and extroverted drag queen for the title role than Kanen Breen.
Breen circumscribes the stage in a staggeringly exceptional performance entwining lyrics, limberness and legs to unforgettable heights and doing so in platformed thigh-high pink boots, pink undies (which you see a lot of) and a lurid lime green chiffon poncho.
Literally towering, Breen cavorts with everything in his power, including action and text, bringing a sublime picture of individuality to the human spirit. Spinning a performance mixing the sassiness of a sex kitten with jaw-dropping lewdness, Platée’s tickets-on-herself delusions first keep her at arms length, her heart is painfully revealed and held in audience embrace by the stupendous, unreeling and tempestuous finale.
Remember how Toni Colette rendered the infectious girlish joy when Muriel gets married in a similar sham marriage? Breen brings to mind that same ecstatic delight which I was reminded of by my plus one and cannot let go.
Breen’s ability to mount every aspect of the punishing vocal demands with rich characterisation is testament to his passion and commitment. With the goods to inhabit a wide-ranging musical landscape, Breen gives his audience an up-close look at one of the country’s most talented performers.
Yours truly was even treated to a personal “Enchantee!” from the diva as she made a delectable entrance down the aisle along with the task of sanitising her hands. Breen is at the epicentre of the opera but is surrounded by an excellent cast with some performing in double roles.
Tenor Nicholas Jones first impresses as a galvanising and youthful Thespis before endearing to no end as a sporty, non-judgmental Mercury. Running the distance in light up joggers and huge sex appeal, Jones also sports a warmly tempered tone and vocal flexibility to go with it.
Cathy-Di Zhang is both lithe and lively with a smattering of lunacy as La Folie and Amour, her assured and lush soprano radiant in the high tessitura and performing for dear life in a late show-stealing aria in rock star mode as she sings her aria for which La Folie can turn mourning into joy.
Peter Coleman-Wright arrives in a puff of smoke and a cloud of balloons as the highly anticipated Jupiter, dispensing divine power and vocal reinforcements generously. It’s a long wait for Juno to reach the stage but we meet her nonetheless in her dressing room as part of Sean Bacon’s well-conceived video designs that provide clever visual commentary. A solid voiced Cheryl Barker imbues her with both burning might and moody imperfection.
Adrian Tamburini makes his appearance in brilliantly cavernous-voiced heft as Le Satyre before re-emerging as a commanding Citheron, King of Greece. David Greco is equally formidable as the clown-faced god of mockery Momus, while Chloe Lankshear’s firm and luminous Clorine and Amy Moore’s attractively radiant and lyrical Thalie compliment proceedings splendidly.
The ever-exciting flourishes, rich colour and mercurial temperament of Rameau’s music is sculptured in pulsating beauty under conductor Erin Helyard’s always-immersive direction with the knack for bringing freshness and immediacy to a centuries-old baroque score.
The Orchestra of the Antipodes oblige with fine-edged musicianship and play their part on stage with characterful involvement courtesy of Shannon Burns’s movement direction.
Singing the fabulously diverse range of chorus work with elegance and coruscating beauty, members of Cantillation are likewise critical to the production’s success and take it in their stride through numerous manifestations that include a swamp full of frogs. With over 60 artists on stage, it all appeared a fitting salute to Pinchgut’s 20th anniversary.
But why on earth isn’t a younger audience revelling in the marvellous world of opera when the likes of such far-reaching exuberance and contemporary flavour speaks to a far broader demographic than an audience averaging 60 years of age or more? In what was otherwise an sensational night at the opera, it was the only thing to bemoan when shuffling out the door.
City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney
Performance: Wednesday 1 December 2021
Season continues to 8 December 2021
Information and Bookings: www.pinchgutopera.com.au
Image: Kanen Breen (Platée) and Peter Coleman-Wright (Jupiter) in Pinchgut Opera’s production of Platée – photo by Brett Boardman
Review: Paul Selar