Jean-Bernard Scotto, head of the Bastille costume department
“Platée was our first collaboration with Laurent Pelly. He was the mastermind behind the staging and the costumes. He arrived with sketches and a lot of ideas, including this famous music-score dress for the character La Folie (Folly). Since then, it has become a classic: there is not an exhibition staged or a book released on Rameau that doesn’t feature a photo of that dress! One has to say that both Marc Minkowski who conducts the work and Laurent who stages it, have given major importance to the character who appears on two occasions in the performance to interrupt the progression of the storyline. Laurent drew inspiration from Nicolas II de Larmessin's Costumes grotesques et métiers. The 17th-century French engraver came up with the wild idea for a series of illustrative plates in which the tools of various trades have been accessorised into clothes.
First, we printed the original score of Platée on plain white newspaper. We then rigidified it using a lamination process. However, Laurent wanted the costume to move and “dance” during the performance. So we chose not to sew the score onto the dress uniformly, leaving flounces to give a sense of depth and movement.
Subsequently, in rehearsals, Mireille Delunsch, who was performing the role of La Folie, took hold of the character and gave it life: she began to interact with the conductor and the musicians by tearing off pieces of the score and distributing them in the orchestra pit. So we devised detachable sections with discreet markings so that she would know which pages to tear off. At the same time, her character continued to develop: we gave her a deconstructed wig with crazy tufts and ostrich feathers along with white makeup and a terrifying smile reminiscent of the Joker in Batman.
This production of Platée has travelled far and wide. Of course, before each revival, we review all the costumes with Laurent. Oddly enough, La Folie's dress has never needed to be spruced up. With time, it has has taken on a yellowish patina, but that is in keeping with the ramshackle nature of the character and the production: it’s a costume which improves with age! Another particularity of this production is that it portrays the audience sitting in rows on stage. In fact, this is the part of the show that we have to keep updating. Because the costumes of the fake audience members which seemed so contemporary at the time of the première in 1999, now seem too 90s. People no longer dress like that when they go to the opera! It’s paradoxical, we’re discussing a work which is almost three centuries old, but it’s always like that: the most contemporary part of a production is also its most ephemeral…”
Interviewed by Simon Hatab