Monday, June 27, 2011

Les brigands of the Opéra Comique

Les brigands (The Bandits), Opéra Comique in Paris, June 24 2011

François-Xavier Roth ..... conductor
Macha Makeïeff & Jérôme Deschamps ..... directors

Eric Huchet ..... Falsacappa
Julie Boulianne ..... Fragoletto
Daphné Touchais ..... Fiorella
Franck Leguérinel ..... Pietro
Philippe Talbot ..... Le Comte de Gloria Cassis
Francis Dudziak ..... Le Baron de Campo Tasso
Martial Defontaine ..... Le Prince (Duc de Mantoue)
Jean-Marc Martinez ..... Pipo

Chorus of the Toulon Opera
Orchestre Les Siècles

This is an old production of Les Brigands, an opéra bouffe by who-else-but... Offenbach. Since many of you most probably don't know this opera, here is a link to its synopsis on Wiki (libretto here). So this production was premiered 20 years ago in Amsterdam, then came to Bastille one year later, and then enjoyed a big success throughout the opera houses in France. Now, with this new wave of recreating the past productions [that any social psychologist would identify with fear to embrace future leading to a desire to re-create the past], this entertaining production found its way back on the program. I need to emphasize again that this show is not un-mothballed, but rebuilt from scratch.

Offenbach is obviously related to the 19th century, lots of satiric --often witty-- comedies, and a few true gems of which Les Contes d'Hoffmann definitely stands out as his finest work. Lesser performed opera today are those that carried controversial message at the time of their creation, but today lost in their relevance. Some of them are still occasionally recreated in France but always with that pain of the 19th  century French repertoire. Recently Offenbach was revived in Basel and in Berlin (one show I saw on TV and the other at the Komische), and to me that's the only way the lesser known Offenbach repertoire could stand a chance to last in the 21st century.

Back to Les Brigands. It is a fast paced comedy that works well for you only if you understand French really well. The work was a huge success in  Europe and America at the beginning of the 20th century, but the success arrived only after it was properly translated into local languages.  I use "properly" to say that a translation should preserve the witty sides of the text, the theatrical dynamic filled with buffooneries that may appear a bit naive today but fun nonetheless. So this is a typical example of an opera you want to see translated -- contrary to seeing Rigoletto translated to German and performed today at the Komische, or Don Giovanni translated to English and performed at ENO, both dangerously straddling the zone of bad taste. Hope one day these two superb houses (Komische and ENO) will be more flexible about the language in which the operas in their houses are performed.

Musically Les brigands is like many other small works by Offenbach and not something you would listen to on your iPod or in your spare time. It efficiently accompanies this comedy about a gang of robbers on the fictitious frontier between Spain and Italy. Offenbach in this piece takes a shot at Verdi's Rigoletto, and continues practice from his previous operas in which he mocked the 19th century French repertoire.

In the third video below you'll see Macha Makeïeff trying to say that there is more to this piece than a simple comedy and it is relevant even today, which I think is a serious stretch, but hey... you judge it for yourselves!

The cast is very well composed with Eric Huchet dominating the show both scenically and vocally. François Xavier Roth  gives the orchestra a kick needed to make this comedy works with the crowd.

Production photos [©Frédéric Stéphan]:

A few photos taken by Yours Truly:

In front of Opéra Comique (intermission)

 Several pics taken at the Opéra Comique
Atrium of Opéra Comique






Two trailers (excerpts from the show):

and a short video from Arte

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