Rameau's Platée owes much more to Aristophanes' comedy The Frogs than the frog chorus. The main character in The Frogs, Dionysus, may well have been the inspiration for many of the traits of the nymph Platée. Both rule over wetlands and their inhabitants, and both are subjected to extensive mockery. While Dionysus is a divine patron of the theatre, Platée is a visual metaphor for opera. Dionysus, disguised as Heracles, fails to measure up to the hero, exhibiting cowardly behaviour and physical weakness, just as Platée fails to speak and act as a satisfactory operatic heroine, the model for which is, arguably, Lully's Armide. The parodic elements in the debate between Aeschylus and Euripides over the nature and function of tragedy resonate with the parody of tragédie lyrique which lies at the heart of Rameau's opera.
Robert A. Green is Professor Emeritus, Northern Illinois University and is currently affiliated with the musicology department at Indiana University. He has published articles on French music and performance practice in many journals and a book, The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France (Indiana University Press, 1995), and has released two recordings of French Baroque hurdy-gurdy music. He is the editor of the Journal of the Viola da Gamba Society of America.
1 An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in November 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee. I would like to express my posthumous appreciation to Elizabeth Bartlett, who provided me with much material prior to the publication of her edition: Jean-Philippe Rameau, Platée: ballet bouffon en un prologue et trois actes, ed. Elizabeth Bartlett, Opera omnia sér. 4, v. 10 (France: Société Jean-Philippe Rameau, 2005), LXI and LXVI [Google Scholar]. I have used for this article the most recent and, I believe, thorough translation for Aristophanes' Frogs by Alan H. Sommerstein, The Comedies of Aristophanes 9 (Oxford, 1996) [Google Scholar]. Line numbers are used when specifically referring to the text of the play. Page numbers are used when referring to Sommerstein's notes. I would like to thank Downing Thomas and Timothy Long for their suggestions and advice.