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Wonderfully stylish

Offenbach in Paris, appreciated by ROBERT HUGILL

 

It is, perhaps, a mark of the respect and affection with which Felicity Lott is held in France, that for their latest production the Châtelet Theatre, Paris, have assembled around her a Francophone cast. Such a preponderance of French speakers is desirable when it comes to style in French opera but in an operetta such as Offenbach's La Grand-Duchesse de Gérolstein, style is essential. And style is something that can too often be lost when French operetta is performed by non-Francophone singers.

A scene from the Théâtre du Châtelet production of Offenbach's 'La Grand-Duchesse de Gérolstein'. Photo © 2004 M N Robert
A scene from the Théâtre du Châtelet production of Offenbach's 'La Grand-Duchesse de Gérolstein'. Photo © 2004 M N Robert

With stage direction by Laurent Pelly and conductor Marc Minkowski directing Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble, style was present in both the musical and dramatic presentation. The role of the Grand Duchess is not one that we might associate with Felicity Lott; it was in fact written for a mezzo-soprano. Lott relished the comic opportunities that the role gives, but she had more to do than in a traditional production as the opera was performed in a new edition which reopens the cuts Offenbach made after the opening night. Cuts designed to improve the speed of the drama at the expense of the music.

A scene from the Théâtre du Châtelet production of Offenbach's 'La Grand-Duchesse de Gérolstein'. Photo © 2004 M N Robert
A scene from the Théâtre du Châtelet production of Offenbach's 'La Grand-Duchesse de Gérolstein'. Photo © 2004 M N Robert

In an article in the programme book, Marc Minkowski spoke of performing the music with a necessary lightness in order to combat the militarism of the subject. In his production, Laurent Pelly seemed to relish this dichotomy. Setting the piece in the early twentieth century, the soldiers were in dark green fatigues rather than the elegant braided uniforms which the Duchess professes to like; General Boum (a lively François Le Roux displaying a fine gift for comedy) wore a uniform redolent of the Prussian military; the vivandières wore print dresses combined with wellington boots. Despite the soldiers' sober dress we still had dancers and dancing; a ballet of soldiers in First World War uniforms is a feast of contrasts.

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Copyright © 24 October 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK

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