It’s quite shocking to read that the glorious l’Etoile, Chabrier’s comic opera, has only just had its first ever performance at the Royal Opera House. First performed in Paris in 1877, it is a beautiful example of French Opéra Bouffe. The music is wonderful, sparkling and melodious, consisting of some absolute gems such as the Green Chartreuse duet. It is Gilbert and Sullivan meets Johannes Strauss with a can-can thrown in.
I don’t know how I’m going to begin to explain the plot to you, as it is quite ridiculous, and yet it doesn’t quite matter. This is a love story and a farce, gently mocking the aristocracy and their whims. Mariame Clement’s direction has provided us with some wonderful Monty Python references and steam punk décor. It’s frivolous, colourful and frothy, without a coherent storyline – but I simply loved it.
The singing, as one would expect, is top class. Christophe Mortagne is an endearing King Ouf, Helene Guilmette and Julie Boulianne were delightful as Laoula and Aloès, and their ensembles with Francois Piolino and Aimery Lefèvre were musical highlights.
However, it was Kate Lindsey as Lazuli who had me transfixed and who stole our hearts. What a stunning rich mezzo timbre, with beautiful high spinning pianissimo. Her delivery was laden with style and vocally rich in contrast and dynamic.
This crazy plot about the peddler Lazuli and his love for princess Laoula was well portrayed thanks to the additional spoken roles of Dupont, played by Jean-Luc Vincent, and Smith, played by the stand-up comedian Chris Addison. Who would have guessed that my two favoured worlds of comedy and opera should collide in this fanciful fashion?
Speaking to Chris Addison after the premiere, I heard about his passion for opera. He wrote a wonderful article for the Daily Telegraph about his love for Glyndebourne last year and since joining the cast of L’Etoile, has been championing the art form to a new wave of the uninitiated.
Well done, Chris, and I must commend his performance too. Although he could use a little more projection in his delivery, his comic timing and acting were superb, as was his generosity to his colleagues on stage.
There were some fun gags (many developed by him and the director) involving surtitles, Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace, and the ribbing of Mark Elder, our glorious conductor, who is celebrating 40 years of conducting. When I asked him if he would ever be involved in an opera production again, the reply was ‘yes, in a heartbeat’. I could tell it was a secret dream come true.
L’Etoile runs until 24th February