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<<  -- 2 --  Robert Hugill    WONDERFULLY STYLISH

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Besides contrasts, Pelly's production seemed to embody a number of jokes. The opera opened with the soldiers dead on the ground, in profound contrast to the joyous music in the orchestra, then suddenly a cork popped -- not dead, just dead drunk. The Duchess made her first appearance reviewing her troops; dressed in a red soldier's tunic, black trousers and high boots with a fur coat wrapped round her, Felicity Lott looked the epitome of elegance. She first takes tea (with a strong nip of something stronger) before the review; here and in other places there was more than a hint of 'Travels with my Aunt', something noticed by other reviewers. The soldiers (and later the assassins) are kitted out not with weapons and helmets but with kitchen utensils and a number of the soldiers are actually played by women. Later, as everyone returns to the court after the war we started to notice a number of men in drag amongst the ladies of the chorus; these came into their own in the entractes where Laura Scozzi had devised witty and imaginative choreography for a number of 'couples'. The dancers impressed with both their wit and style and with the skill that they disguised the awkwardness of two men dancing a classical pas de deux together.

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

The cast surrounding Felicity Lott's sparkling and sparky Duchess was uniformly excellent. Besides François Le Roux as General Boum, Franch Leguérinel was equally entertaining as the Grand Duchess's chancellor, Baron Puck; Eric Huchet made much of little as the Duchess's put upon, but rather stupid, fiancée Prince Paul. Yann Beuron displayed both a winning personality and fine musicality as Fritz, the young soldier with whom the Duchess become enamoured. Sandrine Piau was musically excellent as Fritz's fiancée Wanda, but she displayed the same scene-stealing over-acting that was familiar from her performance as Atalanta in William Christie's production of Serse.

Marc Minkowski encouraged his orchestra to play the score with all the requisite lightness and verve, marred only by moments of disagreement between stage and pit. The role of the Grand Duchess does not lie completely comfortably in Lott's voice, but she compensated by giving a wonderfully amusing, fully rounded portrayal, displaying a fine gift for comedy. But I could not help wishing that Minkowski had not been so scrupulous in his edition and had included some of Offenbach's changes for Vienna, where the role was sung by a soprano.

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

The opera is receiving a long run of performances at the Châtelet, so I do urge people to try and see this wonderfully stylish evening.

Copyright © 24 October 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK

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Robert Hugill was at the Saturday 16 October 2004 performance of the Théâtre du Châtelet's new production of Offenbach's La Grand Duchesse de Gerolstein. Performances in Paris continue until 2 January 2005, with details online at the Felicity Lott website or at the Théâtre du Châtelet.

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