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Stylish and Enjoyable

'Bluebeard' at Grange Park Opera,
experienced by ROBERT HUGILL


When I first told people that I was coming to see Bluebeard at Grange Park Opera there was initially confusion as people assumed I meant the opera by Bartók. And then when I said Offenbach, there was general surprise that Offenbach had written an opera about Bluebeard. It is, in fact, a rather strange subject for an operetta. Offenbach's version was premièred in 1866, with a libretto by Meilhac and Halevy (of Carmen fame). The satire is less focussed than in some of his operettas; the librettists seem to have thrown an enormous number of elements into the mix.

The audiences at the first performances would, however, have undoubtedly picked up on the coded references to the court of Napoleon III. Bluebeard, with the womanising Bluebeard, the arbitrary and autocratic King, the fawning courtiers and the sexually voracious Queen, would have struck a variety of chords even if the end result is a rather odd mixture more reminiscent of Gilbert at his most topsy-turvy. In fact, Bluebeard is rather more reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan than many of Offenbach's other operas.

At Grange Park the opera débuted on Thursday 5 June 2008 in a production by Stephen Langridge, designed by George Souglides, which has already been seen at the Bregenz Festival. Kit Hesketh-Harvey had provided a new English translation and Langridge re-worked his production for the Grange Park Opera stage. The cast was led by Langridge's father, Philip, in the title role with a strong ensemble of singers and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Richard Balcombe.

For some reason, Offenbach and his librettists choose to start off the opera in the countryside, throwing in Princesses lost at birth, Princes in disguise and the choosing of a May Queen by lottery; this lottery results in Fleurette, Yvette Bonner, being discovered as the lost daughter of King Bobeche (Robert Burt) and Boulotte (Elena Ferrari), a tart with a heart, becoming the 'virginal' May Queen. Boulotte's prize is to become the next wife of Bluebeard (Philip Langridge). This satire of country life and country ways is virtually jettisoned after Act 1, as Acts 2 and 3 take place at the Court of King Bobeche and at Bluebeard's castle. Except, of course, Boulotte is brought to court as Bluebeard's wife, and her reactions to everything form one of the strands of the comedy.

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Copyright © 9 June 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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