17 November 2012
© Sam H. Shirakawa
|Christophe Mortagne, Anna Ryberg, Jenny Carlstedt|
In accordance with local custom, the young king of a fairytale city-state goes in search for someone to have publicly executed on his upcoming birthday. Thus begins L’Étoile by Emmanuel Chabrier, an opera-bouffe with more twists and turns than a Gordian pretzel.
I have no idea what Chabrier and his librettists Eugene Letterier and Albert Vanloo found amusing in this idea, but they apparently thought enough of it to complete it and have it mounted at Jacques Offenbach’s Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens in 1877. Its complex score proved difficult for the orchestra musicians, but the opera went on to enjoy spotty successes in Europe, Great Britain and in the US.
L’Étoile has never been wildly popular, even in France, but it has received noteworthy revivals periodically throughout the past century. More recently, Glimmerglass attracted attention by mounting it in 2001, New York City Opera first produced it two years later, and Sir Simon Rattle led a production at the Berlin State Opera in 2010.
Oper Frankfurt is currently reviving David Alden’s quasi-contemporary production with several staffers alternating on the podium, including Sebastian Zierer. Thanks primarily to his enthusiasm on 17 November, the piece fizzes sufficiently to suppress the recurring thought, that the score smacks more of ginger ale than of champagne.
Actor-singer Christophe Mortagne as the head-hungry King Ouf tops a superb cast that works hard to follow Zierer’s lead. Jenny Carlstedt sparkles vocally in the trouser role Lazuli, the street vendor King Ouf selects for his birthday execution. Anna Ryberg essays feline fascination as Princess Laouli, who is engaged to wed Ouf but finds herself the object of Lazuli’s affection. Simon Bailey enlivens the court astrologer, who charts the King’s impending death, with a dour oafishness that strikes an engaging balance between sappy and sinister.
The audience at the performance I attended was quite different in general character from those I am frequently a part of; this was not a premiere or a special occasion. The crowd was less glittery and more attentive to the humorous nuances of the German supertitles being flashed above the stage. During the interval, there were some energetic discussions being carried on. But the snippets I overheard had nothing to do with the performance. Leading me to infer that the audience regarded L’Étoile with as much gravity as the multitudes who, once upon a time, found delectation and amusement at public executions.
Rightly so perhaps.
Three more performances are set for this season.
Labels: Anna Ryberg, Christophe Mortagne, David Alden, Emmanuel Chabrier, Jenny Carlstedt, L'Étoile, oper, Oper Frankfurt, Opera, OPeracast.com, opercastblog.com, Sam H. Shirakawa, Sebastian Zierer, Simon Bailey