The opera itself does this with aplomb. It rides on an effervescent vitamin pill of a score, ably conducted (though with perhaps a tad too much elegance) by Sir Mark Elder. The singers, too, are on fine form, especially Christophe Mortagne as a jittering Ouf and Kate Lindsey as a luminous Lazuli. Julia Hansen’s set does wonders, fleetly jumping across space and time with great imagination.
Yet there is something slightly rotten at the production’s core, preventing it from truly cohering. Although French director Mariame Clément has worked wonders before – notably with Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at Glyndebourne 2014 – she stumbles with such a gossamer work.
Her production is overstuffed and unfocused, as epitomised by the addition of two new spoken word characters. Played by Jean-Luc Vincent and The Thick of It’s Chris Addison, the pair can be amusing but largely detract from operetta’s machinery. Why mess around with such a perfectly formed gem?
This production is not quite Regietheater at its worst; the inherent silliness of the piece itself goes some way to cover Clément’s tracks. It’s easier to forgive excesses when they’re obscuring something excessive itself. But it is a shame to see such a stellar operetta hidden behind so many superfluous devices, especially when this is likely to be the only production of Chabrier’s bauble for a good while. This L'Etoile should entertain, but is unlikely to enthral.
Want to know more? Read on for our preview.
The Royal Opera winter season is not the cheeriest, with furious tragedies and star-crossed romance. L’Etoile, by innovative French composer Emmanuel Chabrier should alone suffice to redress the balance. One of the greatest of the opéra bouffe, it is a comedy of the most ludicrous extremity, able to make Gilbert and Sullivan seem tame and stately.
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L’Etoile begins with King Ouf, who roams the streets disguised in search of a victim for his annual public impalement ceremony. The pedlar Lazuli, who has fallen in love with Ouf’s betrothed Laoula, seems a perfect candidate for a bloody death. When the astrologer Siroco claims that Ouf and Lazuli’s lives are linked, however, the jealous monarch has to treat his rival to a life of sublime luxury.
For far too long, there was only one famous piece attached to the name Chabrier – Espana. Over the past two decades, however, there has been a small but sure revival of his operatic work.
Hugely respected by the likes of Strauss and Stravinsky, Emmanuel Chabrier was a romantic who broke away from tradition and opened the door to modernity. A friend and significant collector of the impressionist artists, he could be called the Manet to Debussy’s Monet, brilliantly catalyzing an artistic transition that was later mapped out further by his successors.
When L’Etoile was revived by the New Sussex Opera in 2013, The Telegraph’s Rupert Christiansen declared it a “rare gem” and “an enchanting farce”, asking “What more could one want?” in reference to the score.
French director Mariame Clement (Hansel et Gretel) makes her Covent Garden debut, while Mark Elder, Hallé Orchestra chief conductor, leads the musicians. The cast is headed by French tenor Christophe Mortagne (Manon), with mezzo Kate Lindsey in the breeches role of Lazuli and soprano Helene Guilmette as Laoula. This largely young, rising cast should make a strong case for the vitality and relevance of Chabrier’s glorious comedy.
|What||L'Etoile review, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
01 Feb 16 – 24 Feb 16, 7:30 PM – 10:50 PM
|Website||Click here to book via the Royal Opera House|