Marc-Olivier Dupin - Robert le cochon et les Kidnappeurs

Opéra comique, Paris, Friday June 13 2014

Conductor: Marc-Olivier Dupin. Production: Ivan Grinberg. Sets and costumes: Paul Cox. Lighting: Madjid Hakimi. Robert le cochon; Louyaplu, le tueur de loups: Marc Mauillon. Mercibocou le loup: Paul-Alexandre Dubois. Vieux Hibou; Ferdinand, gardien muet du dépotoir: Damien Bouvet. Nouille la grenouille; la Lune: Donatienne Michel-Dansac. Trashella, propriétaire du dépotoir: Edwige Bourdy. Poitou-Charentes Orchestra.

"On a quiet night, Robert the Pig (Robert le Cochon) learns that his friend Mercibocou the Wolf has been kidnapped by Trashella, the owner of the big garbage dump. To set him free, the boldness of Robert the Pig, the passion of Nouille the Frog and the complicity of the Moon will be necessary."

You'll have gathered from this introduction, copied and pasted from the Opéra Comique's website, that Robert le Cochon is not so much an opera, nor even an operetta or a musical, as a children's show with a relatively fancy score and simple, colourful sets, like pictures in a book of children's stories: the dump, with its piles of different-coloured dogs' kennels, clocks, lampshades, chairs, computers and red drums, used by Mercibocou to build Nouille la Grenouille's rocket. To the left, the owl on a tree stump; at the rear, a naively painted rural backdrop. Above, as and when needed, a large, singing moon. Nouille is in a frog suit with a red skirt, Robert is in a pig suit with shorts, Mercibocou is in blue overalls with a wolf's head and Trashella wears a long red dress and has hair like Marge Simpson's. The acting and choreography are as naive as the painted backdrop.

The score, for eighteen instruments including a piano and an accordeon, is:

"... a patchwork of objects found in the vast dump of "serious" music, from renaissance polyphony to romantic opera and popular songs."

Overall, it is reminiscent of Shostakovich's Jazz Suites, of Cheryomushki or the "teapot" scene in L'Enfant et les sortilèges, with occasional outbursts of "modern" and percussive, rhythmic passages that reminded me of Britten's scores for children or "Tom, Tom the piper's son" in The Turn of the Screw.

The only really sound voice in this production was that of Marc Mauillon, most recently seen as Cithéron in Robert Carsen's production of Platée and here projecting the same engaging personality. Paul-Alexandre Dubois could probably put his precarious intonation down to the character demands of his part as a wolf. The female singers were, so a neaby Frenchman thought, "unworthy of a capital city." He found it impossible to believe better candidates were not available. And it turned out that the little old lady next to me had had exactly the same thought as I did: on Broadway, with tighter directing and better singing (she went so far as imagining what Natalie Dessay would have made of Nouille la Grenouille!) and dancing, even in the same sets, this would have made an excellent, fun show.

The Opéra Comique's video trailer gives some idea of the production, not much of the music.

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