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Opera on DVD: Chabrier's L'Etoile

Available on Amazon:
available at Amazon
Chabrier, L'Etoile, Opéra national de Lyon / Gardiner, Alliot-Lugaz, Gautier, Le Roux (1986)

Also on Ionarts:

Chabrier, L'Etoile (November 19, 2005)
Glimmerglass Opera and New York City Opera together revived Emmanuel Chabrier's opéra bouffe L'Etoile (1877) a few years ago, when New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini called it "one of the best-kept secrets of 19th-century French opera." L'Opéra de Montréal mounted that production again this season, as I noted here last fall, Opera Boston will produce the opera this March, and Cincinnati Opera is going to do it this June as part of their summer opera festival, where Ionarts might try to catch it during our annual opera peregrinations. None of this would have been possible except that John Eliot Gardiner put together a complete edition of Chabrier's opera, for his own group to perform in 1984. Gardiner conducts this DVD version, with a cast of young singers at the Opéra national de Lyon.

The story, like most operetta and much opera, is kind of silly. I had to draw a diagram to make sense of it, with all of the people disguised as other people and such nonsense. The music that accompanies that nonsense, however, is a series of sweet bonbons, just as you would expect from Offenbach or Johann Strauss, Jr. There is a trouser role with beautiful music, Lazuli, the beggar boy who falls in love with the princess the disguised King Ouf is supposed to marry, while she is in disguise, too. Lazuli assaults King Ouf and is condemned to be executed, a fate he is spared only because the king believes his astrologer's claim that the fates of king and peddlar are intertwined. Most of the musical things you would expect to find in a comic operetta are here, brilliant ensembles ("Cela va mieux," with the two pairs of lovers), sweet melodies (Laoula's "Toujours je penserai à vous" and the central theme "Tenez-vous là"), laughing music (the trio "C'est le mari"), sneezing music ("Achoo! achoo!"), drinking songs ("Je me sens, hélas" sung as the king and his astrologer get loaded on Chartreuse verte), and fun choral scenes ("Puisqu'il est mort" and many others). It's all very charming, but not easy to pull off, as shown by Pierre Marc Bellemare in an article (L'Étoile or the Demands of Comic Music (translated by Jane Brierley, vol. 11/3, December 12, 2005) for La Scena Musicale.

Colette Alliot-Lugaz is a great Lazuli, with a dark, sometimes timorous quality that is quite boyish. Georges Gautier (Le Roi Ouf 1er) is perhaps not always vocally the best, but he captures the loony king perfectly. Ghyslaine Raphanel is a sweet, unaffected Princesse Laoula, and François Le Roux is an inspired and ridiculous Hérisson de Porc-Epic. This is the only DVD version of this nutty opera available at this point. I have only one real reservation, and that is the sound quality. The staging was beautifully done, but the sound is obviously dubbed in, and quite badly, since it rarely corresponds with the movement of the singer's mouths. It also happens to be the only full recording of the opera, too, no longer even available on CD in the United States. If you want to get to know the opera, you may as well buy the DVD. Even better, see it live in one of the upcoming productions. As suggested in this review of a December 2003 production of L'Etoile in Nantes, companies everywhere should consider this opera as an alternative to the annual New Year's productions of The Merry Widow or Die Fledermaus.


Sarah said...

Thank you for the Calder review. I love coming here because I can always count on real critiques, not the gushing cheerleader routines that pass as reviews at local rags.

I am interested in this statement: "I haven’t yet heard a young professional string quartet in a professional setting that didn’t leave a more memorable impression." I'm wondering which young professional string quartets you've heard and what your definition of "young professional" is.

jfl said...
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