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Opera Review: La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein

 

By Joel Kasow


GRENOBLE, FRANCE, 12 October 2004—Marc Minkowski and Laurent Pelly attacked their third Offenbach operetta, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, to celebrate the reopening of the Maison de la Culture in Grenoble, renamed MC2. Further expanding their credentials in the domain after a joint Contes d'Hoffmann last season in Lausanne and Pelly's infidelity with a Périchole in Marseilles, with Felicity Lott and many others rejoining the crew, we have a repeat in many ways of the earlier successes. Pelly's tendency towards hyper-activity at moments seems always to take the same forms, while Lott's grimaces are over-familiar. Pelly once again sets the opera in our time, obscure references in the dialogue omitted and a few gags inserted, such as the arrival of a fax, as well as Chantal Thomas's rickety, multi-level set requiring much clambering by everyone, not always to any visible purpose. Musically, however, we are on a different level, with Minkowski and his orchestra, Les Musiciens du Louvre - Grenoble, offering luxurious support, never over-sentimentalizing and as piquant as necessary.

Jacques
				
				
				
				
				
				 Offenbach: La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein
Offenbach: La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein
Photo: M.N.Robert
Photo courtesy of Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris

Casting was excellent apart from the Grand-Duchess herself. Felicity Lott plays the role as to the manor born, but her worn soprano does not always easily encompass the low-lying tessitura. And that in a version that restored about 20 minutes of music that the composer had cut after the opening night: an expanded finale to the second act, a Méditation for the Grand-Duchess and a scene for the conspirators. Jean-Christophe Keck, responsible for much of the revolution in Offenbach studies, states that there are three versions, which should not be confused: that performed in Grenoble which is the composer's original intention, the version that has been passed down in the scores of the time based on the second night, after the cuts had been made, and a German version with the title role rewritten for a high soprano. Yann Beuron as the simple soldier elevated to general and then demoted was perfectly matched to Lott's sophistication, but Sandrine Piau's Wanda became too much of a simpleton and not just a peasant girl. François Le Roux's Général Boum was a model performance, despite a frazzled voice, but Franck Leguérinel's Puck and Eric Huchet's Prince Paul demonstrated Pelly's over-reliance on caricature.

None of the above is sufficient to deny that the audience— including this member—enjoyed themselves as others will undoubtedly be able to judge when the recording and DVD appear.


Performances of Jacques Offenbach's La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein are scheduled as follows:

Théâtre du Châtelet —12,15,17,19,20 October 2004

9,11,14,16,19,23,26,28,31 December 2004

2 January 2005

Live broadcast on France 2 Television on 26 December 2004.


Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com..

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