Chabrier – L’Etoile

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday December 19, 2007

Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Production: Macha Makeïeff and Jérôme Deschamps. Sets and Costumes: Macha Makeïeff.
Lazuli: Stéphanie d’Oustrac. La Princesse Laoula: Anne-Catherine Gillet. Aloès: Blandine Staskiewicz. Le Roi Ouf 1er: Jean-Luc Viala. Hérisson de Porc Epic: Christophe Gay. Siroco: Jean-Philippe Lafont. Tapioca: François Piolino. Comic actors: Jean-Marc Bihour, Philippe Leygnac and Patrice Thibaud. The Monteverdi Choir, L’Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique.

For many years, Offenbach productions in France were of two equally unsuccessful kinds: grim, humourless, black-leather “Berlin” deconstructions or, more often, a sort of amateur-British-panto style, faux-naïf and filled with clichés and hopelessly unfunny “gags” (often also sung to arrangements for a kind of Broadway ensemble) talked up – this being France, where Jerry Lewis is not only “knighted” for his services to arts and letters but also a Commander of the Legion of Honour - as a perpetuation of or tribute to a great slapstick/vaudeville tradition of the past. These were associated in most minds with director Jérôme Savary, former director of the Opéra Comique. I thought that, with the work done by Laurent Pelly for Marc Minkowski and Savary’s departure, we’d seen the last of them.

Well, for Offenbach we may have (though I doubt it), but the new management at the Opéra Comique have got off to a dire start by applying the formula to Chabrier’s L'Etoile. I went expecting to discover a work of great charm (that’s what I’d always read about it) but charm was one of many things lacking in this stupid staging. Makeïeff and Deschamps are a famous couple admired (apparently) for their theatrical professionalism, but this might as well have been directed by Benny Hill on an off day. Deliberately cheap, provincial, painted sets (perhaps making a virtue of necessity: the Opéra Comique is on a tight budget by French standards), silly, 50s bumpkin costumes, silly, stiff wigs, disco-dancing gestures from the chorus (wagging finger, hand on hip), leaden delivery, boring interventions by mimes… The staging was brightly-coloured and occasionally worked in “grand” ensembles; but the potentially excellent cast, with the obvious ability to charm in a different production – we’ve seen some of them do just that in Les Paladins – were simply not allowed to shine.
Gardiner's stolidly English conducting (not much "chic populaire" there) and a not-especially-impressive orchestra were no help.

Critics from both the
FT and Le Monde found the show interminable. They have to stay to the end. We gladly left at the interval.


Popular posts from this blog

Wagner - Lohengrin

Mussorgsky - Boris Godunov (1869)

Berlioz - Benvenuto Cellini