Offenbach - Les Brigands

Opéra Comique, Paris, Monday June 27 2011

Conductor: François-Xavier Roth. Production: Macha Makeïeff and Jérôme Deschamps.Costumes: Macha Makeïeff. Lighting: Marie-Christine Soma. Falsacappa: Eric Huchet. Fragoletto: Julie Boulianne. Fiorella: Daphné Touchais. Pietro: Franck Leguérinel. Le Comte de Gloria Cassis: Philippe Talbot. Le Baron de Campo Tasso: Francis Dudziak. Le Prince (Duc de Mantoue): Martial Defontaine. Le Chef des carabiniers: Fernand Bernadi. Antonio: caissier du prince: Loïc Félix. Carmagnola: Léonard Pezzino. Domino: Thomas Morris. Barbavano: Antoine Garcin. Pipo: Jean-Marc Martinez. Adolphe de Valladolid, un page: Marc Molomot. Princesse de Grenade: Michèle Lagrange. Zerlina, La Duchesse: Christine Rigaud. Le Précepteur: Ronan Debois. Chorus of the Toulon Opera. Orchestre Les Siècles.

Passing in 24 hours from one end of the French romantic spectrum to the other, I found myself mixing them up as I prepared to write and, for a brief moment, thinking dead chickens fell from the sky in Les Huguenots. They didn’t: it was in Les Brigands the following evening. They were later plucked naked.

This was a revival of a 1993 production madly staged at the Bastille, but this time with a period-instrument orchestra and a conductor so historically-informed he stood in the middle of the pit, surrounded by the players. The Salle Favart of course made much more sense since any facial expressions are lost several hundred feet down in the Bastille, and a very amiable evening of nonsense we had of it. It’s the kind of deliberately, tongue-in-cheek traditional show, almost pantomime-like, that could be dire, with its cardboard cut-out, painted flats (a glade with receding mountain ranges; an inn at the well-known border between Spain and Italy; a gothic castle supposedly in Mantova set against a volcano – that erupted in a shower of sparks at the end) live chickens as well as dead ones, and “Disney-gothic” costumes. But in this case the hammy acting was so well-rehearsed, fluent and good-humoured (as if everyone was really having a whale of a time); the music was so carefully crafted, to Minkowski’s respectful standards (he wasn’t in the pit but in the audience, no doubt resting from Meyerbeer); and the cast was so good – some of them having been with Minko himself in the famous Pelly productions (remember Baron Puck and Prince Paul in La Grande Duchesse?) that we had a highly entertaining evening and a nice, undemanding end to the season.

Highlight: the proud, comic-book Spaniards, their extravagant gestures and stamping feet. And stuck in our heads for hours after: "Le bruit des bottes, des bottes, des bottes…"

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