19 January 2016 at 9.30am | 2 Comments
The Story Begins…
King Ouf I wants to celebrate his birthday with, as usual, an execution by impalement. He thinks he’s found the perfect victim when the pedlar Lazuli insults him. However, Siroco the astrologer predicts that Ouf and Lazuli’s fortunes are closely linked. Can Lazuli escape death – and marry his beloved Laoula?
A Splendidly Characterful Score
Chabrier’s score is light and witty, full of dramatic and musical treats. These include a chorus celebrating Ouf’s executions by impalement (‘Couplets du Pal’), a tickling trio, Princess Laoula’s pensive ‘Rose Aria’, Ouf and Siroco’s comic Act III duet (regularly encored during the opera’s early days) in praise of green chartreuse and Lazuli’s beautiful aria in which he dreams about his future, ‘O ma petite étoile’.
A Varied Operatic Career
Chabrier is best remembered today for his orchestral piece España and his delightful piano music. However, he was also active as an opera composer for much of his career. His admiration for Wagner led him to write the large-scale opera Gwendoline, with a libretto by the writer Catulle Mendès. The pair later embarked on a second opera, Briséïs (based on a play by Goethe), which was left incomplete at Chabrier’s death. Chabrier also had a great gift for comedy, which found its voice in L’Étoile, the operetta L’Éducation manquée and the comic opera Le Roi malgré lui.
A Comic Fairytale
Mariame Clément’s production brings out the farcical and colourful aspects of Chabrier’s opera. Julia Hansen’s collage-like designs reflect the many themes and varying styles of the opera, from an Arabian Nights story to an anachronistic satire of 19th-century life. Clément has added a duo of actors, played in the premiere by Chris Addison and Jean-Luc Vincent, to provide a commentary on the opera’s absurdly silly story.
A Return to the Repertory
L’Étoile had its premiere at Offenbach’s Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens on 28 November 1877. It was slow to gain success outside Paris, and all but disappeared from the repertory in the mid-20th century (though there was a production at London’s Royal Academy of Music in the 1970s featuring Lesley Garrett as Lazuli). However, interest in L’Étoile revived in the 1980s with the first complete recording, and the opera has been performed with increasing frequency since 2001, with new productions in the UK, the USA, France, Switzerland and Canada.
L’Étoile runs 1–24 February 2016. Tickets are still available.