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Garry Marshall's Grande-Duchesse

The nexus between the worlds of opera and film fascinates me. So, I was interested in the new Los Angeles Opera production of Offenbach's La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein. It's an interesting opera, not particularly well known, although there was the worthy Laurent Pelly and Marc Minkowski production last season at the Théâtre du Châtelet, with Dame Felicity Lott. However, the L.A. opera production, which opened on September 10 with Frederica von Stade in the title role, was also intriguing because it was directed by Garry Marshall, best known for his work in television. Lots of critics took note as a result, including M. G. Lord (Film director's dictum for opera: Hit the notes and get the laughs, September 7) for the New York Times, reprinted in the International Herald Tribune:

Shortly before the first onstage rehearsal for the Los Angeles Opera's production of Jacques Offenbach's "Grand Duchess," its director handed out thick packets labeled "Revisions." The singers groaned. The opera had been good enough for 138 years. Did it really need last-minute changes? But when they opened the handouts, the performers brightened. On Page 2 were the words "JUST KIDDING." The other pages were blank. "I was totally fooled," said the mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, who is singing the title role. "It was a great gag." Which, after all, is what you would expect when the director of your opera is the guy who is perhaps best known for creating "Happy Days."
The reviews, however, have not been positive. David Mermelstein's article (A 'Duchess' overstuffed with jokes and intrusions, September 15) for LA Daily News is hilariously candid:
And in case you're wondering if the humor in Marshall's reworking of Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy's libretto didn't translate, fuhgedaboutit. Though the singing is still in French, the spoken parts are now in English, and staler than week-old rye bread. (By way of mild example, Marshall's script quells a courtesan with the words, "Hush, hush, sweet Charlotte," as if anyone under 60 would find that remotely funny.) Marshall's direction isn't much better than his lame script. He overstuffs almost every scene with pointless intrusions, even when the main characters are singing.
Mark Swed's review (Garry Marshall is a shtickler for humor, September 12) for the Los Angeles Times is a little kinder, calling the production "relentlessly entertaining" (with an unintentionally humorous typographical error in listing Marshall's film credits: "Petty Woman"):
In the end, "The Grand Duchess" probably tries a little too hard to entertain, entertain, entertain. Even the famed Can-Can from a different Offenbach operetta gets, not ineffectively, thrown in. We live in times that may need more than that from our arts institutions. But L.A. Opera is not as financially flush as it would like to be, and this will surely fill seats. Two things, though, I wished for Saturday. First, something more than fun, fun, fun, when the news shows us so much suffering (say a bit of Katrina fund-raising). Second, an acknowledgement from the Music Center that it has got to go out and raise a couple of million dollars for a new sound system in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The dialogue is amplified, the music is not, and that proved the worst of both worlds Saturday. The dialogue sounded as though it came out of tin cans. The singing sounded undernourished. In situations like this, both should be amplified, and well.
Reservations aside, opera has probably never been as widely visible in Los Angeles, which is just what L.A. Opera needs: reviews in The Hollywood Reporter, serious newspapers, and local rags alike. The final performance is this Saturday, October 1.


Todd said...

My last memory of Gary was him thanking me for dropping my pants for his production. That indicates the warmth and humor of the man...and the caliber of productions leading up to this. Quite telling.

Charles T. Downey said...

*HA HA HA* Omigod, that was writhing-on-the-floor funny. T, any chance you could go to this Saturday's performance at L.A. Opera and give us a review? It's the last one. See if the press office will give you a press ticket. We would love to see your take on it.