Buoyant and Fresh
André Messager's 'Véronique'
delights MIKE WHEELER
What with our addiction to Gilbert and Sullivan and the occasional import from Vienna, French operetta (Offenbach apart) has not really had much of a chance to take off in this country. If Giles Havergal's delightful staging of Messager's Véronique (Buxton Opera House, Buxton, UK, 11 July 2009) is a sign that this may be about to change it is doubly welcome.
Buxton's staging showed just why Véronique enjoys its reputation as one of the jewels of the repertoire. The overall flavour is mainly a blend of Fauré and Offenbach with, for English-speaking audiences, some inevitable echoes of G&S (though not as many as you might think). The plot concerns Viscount Florestan, heavily in debt and faced with either prison or marriage to an unknown heiress. Hélène, the girl in question, turns up unknown, with her aunt and companion, Ermerance. Hearing Florestan's put-down of the 'thick, rich bird' he is due to marry, she determines to teach him a lesson. Disguising herself as a simple country girl she wins his affections and strings him along. A potentially sad ending is resolved in time for a celebratory finale.
As Hélène, Victoria Joyce's sure-footed determination makes her heartbreak at the belief that it is all over, just before the final number, all the more poignant. Yvonne Howard's Ermerance is made of similar stuff. In her case it is an awareness of time passing and life slipping by (almost rivalling that of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier) that gives her character depth, touchingly explored in her big Act 3 number.
At first glance Mark Stone's Florestan is the kind of amiable cad that Terry-Thomas would have played in a 1950s British film comedy. But in numbers like the celebrated 'Swing' duet he allows an otherwise well-hidden sensitivity to show through, without which the turn of events at the end of Act 3 would not ring as true as it does.
Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks' Inspector Loustot (Florestan's minder) has an engagingly stolid charm and a nice line in confused proverbs (a running joke throughout the show). Donald Maxwell's flower-shop proprietor Coquenard is another demonstration of just what a complete singing actor he is. Helen Williams, as his wife Agathe, is agreeably spirited; together they make an entertainingly flirtatious couple (though not with each other).
Leslie Travers' simple three-walled set serves as the location for all three acts; scene changes are carried out smoothly and unobtrusively. The pastel shades of John Bishop's lighting beautifully complement the darker tones of the furnishings and most of the costumes; the momentary change of lighting when a character has an aside was a neat touch.
Kit Hesketh-Harvey's witty English translation is full of neat rhymes and genuinely funny lines, and Tim Claydon's choreography is a delight. Conductor Wyn Davies keeps the music buoyant and fresh -- genuinely moving when it matters, light as a soufflé the rest of the time.
Copyright © 15 July 2009
Further performances of André Messager's Véronique at Buxton Opera House (buxtonoperahouse.org.uk) are scheduled for 15, 19, 22 and 26 July 2009.
BUXTON OPERA HOUSE