For anyone trying to get into Chabrier's operas, L'Etoile is a good place to start. The story is silly and sometimes confusing, but it is also a lot of fun and contains equal amounts of charm, Chabrier's music is also some of his most beautiful and winning. And this production, the only DVD production available, captures the fun and charm of the work wonderfully, with its only fault being some of the lip-synching being out of sync, hardly ever matching the singers' mouths.
L'Etoile is a very visually pleasing production, with bright and colourful sets, atmospheric lighting that matches the wit of the opera as well as giving it depth and well-tailored costumes. The performance is very well shot as well, with the video directing one can take in all of the action but it doesn't forget to give intimacy when needed. Picture and sound quality of the DVD are also excellent, one just wishes that the lip synching fitted better and didn't make it obvious that the music had been pre-recorded. The stage direction is a winner all round. All the humorous moments are deftly paced, witty and hilarious (all while handling it with the appropriate lightness of touch), and then the more intimate/dramatic moments have a lot of charm and heartfelt emotion.
Musically, it's nigh-on flawless. The orchestral playing has lightness and depth, with lots of beauty of tone and energy, while the chorus act with plenty of vigour and sing beautifully, especially at the end. Chabrier has never sounded better under the baton of Sir John Elliot Gardiner, who brings out the wit of the music so adeptly. He is also sympathetic to the needs of the performers as well as letting the music breathe rather than rush through it but always gives the comedy and the staging life.
Of the performances, which were never less than impressive across the board, particularly good were Georges Gautier and especially Colette Alliot-Lugaz. Gautier may not have the most beautiful voice of the cast (it is a good voice still though), but he plays the part of the mad king to fun and sometimes sinister perfection. Alliot-Lugaz is a superb Lazuli, the voice is firm and rich with a dark timbre that suits the trouser role well without sounding too mature, and her acting radiates with charm. Ghyslaine Raphanel sings sweetly and makes for an incandescent Laoula, while Francois Le Roux is similarly very good.
To conclude, immensely charming and enormous fun, apart from the lip synching it is a winner on all levels. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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