Photo: Jef Rabillon
New Year’s days are party days: Angers Nantes Opéra and the Opéra de Rennes celebrate with an Opera Zuid (Holland) production of Offenbach’s Barbe-Bleue. Offenbach’s Bluebeard is something of a Don Juan whose methods are a bit radical, and his story, all in all, is about home and family. Waut Koeken’s staging, accordingly, takes place in a very domestic environment. Yannick Larrivée has designed a set that consists mainly of an inclined plan, which first is an enormous bed, with flowered bedclothes hinting at shepherd idylls; later it becomes a sofa, and then a kitchen table, complete with red and white chequered tablecloth. Many colourful and slightly crazy details add their charm to the staging: a golden picture-frame, hanging askance on the back wall, houses all kinds of people and situations, umbrellas with pompoms serve as “baldaquin du palanquin”, people come and go through a TV set... The whole ambiance is totally Offenbach: light without being facile or cheap. The costumes are as many variations on the theme of nightclothes – this is some kind of pyjama party! Elsa Baumann’s wonderfully crazy choreographies are doing the rest and everything becomes an irresistible vortex of song, dance, gags and surprises. The excellent cast are totally up to the challenge: they run and dance and jump and ride on pillows and sing the demanding parts with seeming effortlessness, they caricature and parody with incredible energy and abandon. Mathias Vidal, tenor, is an energetic, lively, charming, human Barbe-Bleue. With his lovely clear and natural timbre he is totally credible and it is obvious that he masters perfectly the belcanto and baroque repertoire. Just as admirable, energetic and sparkling, is Carine Séchaye in the role of Boulotte. Boulotte is a young country girl with country manners and talk, who finds herself accidentally married to the nobleman Barbe-Bleue. She used to be in love with the prince Saphir, disguised as a shepherd and who is in love with the shepherdess Fleurette, who, in her turn, is really Hermia, the daughter of King Bobêche. As Fleurette’s true identity is found out and she is taken to her father’s castle, enters Popolani, Barbe-Bleue’s alchemist, who is supposed to find a new wife for his master. He organises a lottery, and Boulotte wins it. Meanwhile, the king Bobêche, interpreted as a real music hall king by the tenor Raphaël Brémard, is jealous of count Alvarez whom he suspects of being his wife’s lover. He orders count Oscar to execute him. Flannan Obé, tenor, plays the part with brio con fuoco. Barbe-Bleue has presented his wife Boulotte at court: like Eliza Doolittle at Ascot, she let her tongue run away with her, the court is shocked and Barbe-Bleue decides that the needs a new new wife, and he wants her to be the kings daughter whom he has fallen in love with at first sight. Gabrielle Philiponet, soprano, sings that part full of youthful innocence and charm. Barbe-Bleue orders Popolani to send off Boulotte after his other wives. Pierre Doyen, baritone, is Popolani, a crazy professor. Crazy but not inhuman: Popolani, after all, did not kill his master’s wives, but only put them into some kind of sleep. In furious finale, it turns out that the count Oscar also spared his king’s victims, the supposed lovers of the queen. And so we see a fivefold arranged marriage, the wedding of Princess Hermia and Prince Saphir (very funny Loïc Félix, hysterical in turquoise pyjamas in Act 1), and the reconciliation between Barbe-Bleue and Boulotte. Laurent Campellone conducts the Orchestre Symphonique de Bretagne with just the right amounts of verve and tenderness, and shows his acting talents in a spirited intermezzo with Gordon Wilson, the narrator of the story. A delicious party, a glass of musical champagne for this New Year to begin in style: bravi tutti. The performance can be seen at Angers Grand Théâtre on January 11, 13 and 15.