Chabrier - Le Roi Mal...

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday April 29 2009

Conductor: William Lacey. Production & costumes: Laurent Pelly. Henri de Valois, roi de Pologne : Jean-Sébastien Bou. Minka : Magali Léger. Le duc de Fritelli Franck Leguérinel. Alexina, duchesse de Fritelli : Sophie Marin-Degor. Le comte de Nangis : Gordon Gietz. Laski, grand palatin : Nabil Suliman. Chorus of the Opéra national de Lyon. Orchestre de Paris.

I was really enjoying Laurent Pelly’s production of Le Roi Malgré Lui the other night. Pelly’s a favourite of mine – for his Offenbachs, for his Platée… - and here he was at his best: fast, funny and finely-tuned, every step and gesture, every smile and frown and grimace in place. The basic idea wasn’t a new one: the curtain rose to reveal the brickwork and steel doors of the Opéra Comique’s bare stage, familiar already from the recent Zoroastre; and cast, stagehands and chorus arrived for a rehearsal to find, to their amazement, a full house waiting to watch. The period was that of the opera’s premiere (in the same theatre), around 1890, and the dress was a wonderful mixture of mufti and stage costumes: doublet and bowler hat, top hat and breastplate, strait-laced Victorian bodice and medieval helmet. The gags (including a lot of dashing around with scenery by stagehands in grey coats) were clever, not tacky.

Chabrier’s score was, to me, well-made but unmemorable; a friend finds the pointers to Pelléas “fascinating,” but citing Pelléas is no way to get me excited. He also found the conducting heavy-handed, but there’s always a risk that French music will come across limp-wristed, so I was quite happy with the chunky sound coming from the pit. The singers were young and had acceptable, if lightweight, operetta voices, and the texts were suprisingly good. And maybe I was in an indulgent mood, glad to see such a clever production and a new work at the same time.

But the person I went with was tired and irritable and declared, at the end of act one, that the whole affair was “chiant” – literally “shitting,” but French for a deadly bore. So we left for an early dinner. All I can do is hope it will come back another season, in which case I’ll go alone, or come out on DVD, in which case I’ll buy it.

Friends: don'tcha luv 'em?

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