L’Étoile

I heard quite a bit about L’Etoile in the run up to its opening at the Royal Opera House, and decided to take the plunge and buy a ticket. The “opera bouffe” was first performed in 1877; Emmanuel Chabrier’s light comic opera, with a libretto by Eugene Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, has been rarely performed over the last hundred or so years but is here brought to the stage in a production directed by Mariame Clement.

The bizarre plot concerns King Ouf I, who always celebrates his birthday with a public impalement and goes out among his people in search of an appropriate victim. He settles on a young pedlar, Lazuli, who has fallen in love with Ouf’s disguised fiancée Princess Laoula, until court astrologer Siroco finds that the stars of Lazuli and Ouf are deeply intertwined: so much so that if one dies, the other will too.

Got that? If not, no need to worry, as comedian and actor Chris Addison has been brought in to play Smith, a bemused Englishman who frequently stops the action to ask what is going on. This is very helpful to us, the audience, and also makes for some highly amusing breaking of the fourth wall: even the orchestra gets involved.

Christophe Mortagne is very good as Ouf, with Helene Guilmette and Kate Lindsey excellent as Laoula and Lazuli. Julia Hansen’s collage-like designs are distinctive and work extremely well. For me, the music wasn’t the most memorable part of the work, but it worked well in the context of the piece as a whole, and there were some very funny moments.

Anyone who thinks the Royal Opera House is staid and stuffy should go and see this: it is a silly joyous romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously and should attract even determinedly non-opera fans.

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