Other than The Tales of Hoffman and now and then revivals of La Perichole, Jacques Offenbach gets short shrift in our shores. And that is a shame, for among the 200 little gems written by the German born French comic operetta genius for his very own Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens there are some treasures waiting to be produced on this side of the ocean. In France, major opera companies include some of Offenbach’s best works in their seasons, side by side with Bizet and Massenet, while in America the bulk of his work is by and large ignored.
Meanwhile before things change for the better we can enjoy delights on video, such as Barbe-Bleue in its original French or better, in a decent English translation waiting to be written so that we can get all the humor in Ludovic Halévy’s libretto.
The 2021 Opera de Lyon/Telmondis/France-TV production, now released in an OPUS ARTE VHS receives a perfectly delightful staging brought to life by the French baritone/stage director Laurent Pelly, who directs an inspired cast of singing zanies in the story of the notoriously evil Count who murdered half a dozen wives.
Set to lively music the potentially gruesome tale is given an improbably happy ending by Offenbach and his librettist. With tongue-twisting patter songs alternating with charming ditties and madcap choral interludes and ensembles, Barbe-Bleue keeps things moving at such a clip that the show’s two hours duration seem to fly by never overstaying their welcome.
The chorus of the Opera de Lyon is extraordinarily gifted, with what looks like over two dozen singing actors who obligingly commit to Laurent Pelly’s complexly clever direction with wonderful results.
Then there are the singing-acting principals ranging in age downwards from the older Chistoph Mortagne whose King Bobeche is a brilliant study in royal silliness, to Heloise Mas in the central role of Boulotte, the fleshy peasant big girl with a heart of gold .
Also in the cast are Yann Beuron as Bluebeard, Christophe Gay as Popolani, Jennifer Courcier as Fleurette, Thibault de Damas as Count Oscar, Carl Ghazarossian as Prince Zaphir, and Aline Martin as Queen Clementine each of them contributors to the rampant comic madness.
The Lyon production is a large affair endowed with highly effective changing sets by Chantal Thomas, wonderful costuming by director Pelly, pretty lighting by Joel Adam, and a world-class orchestra led by Michelle Spotti with quintessentially French joie de vivre.
Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS