"La Vie Parisienne" is an operetta famous for its lightness, gaiety, exuberance, effervescence, irresistible high spirits, etc. In my experience, indeed, English productions tend to overdo the 'Ooh-la-la!' element to the point of raucousness. This French staging errs in the opposite direction. It may be rated cool, staid, even austere by normal Offenbachian standards. According to a plot synopsis in "The Complete Book of Light Opera", at the end of "La Vie Parisienne" 'the curtain falls on a scene of rapturous hilarity'. Hardly in this case.
The recording was made at a performance in 1991 at the CDN Theatre, Lyon. The stage is very large and the chorus rather small. Ensembles consequently appear under-populated. The response of director, Alain Francon, to this problem is further to cut down the chorus presence and opt for a deliberately sparse look. It doesn't really work. The sets are fairly bare, generally grey or beige, and depressing in their emptiness, though period costumes add some colour.
The party scenes are particularly glum. In this production, unusually, the servants are not delighted to have the opportunity to dress up as society folk and eat, drink, and be merry (in order to help Gardefeu and Bobinet deceive Baron Gondremarck). Oh, no, they appear to regard the whole exercise as a tiresome imposition on themselves. The libretto may speak of joy and revelry; there is very little evidence of it onstage. The party-goers just stand around waiting for Gondremarck to drink himself under the table. In direct contradiction to the mood of the music, hedonism was never so joyless. Is the director trying to make a moral point? I honestly don't know, but, if he is, he has chosen the wrong show.
Helene Delavault (Metella) outshines the rest of the cast: she has considerable stage presence. As the two boulevardiers at the centre of the story, Jean-Francois Sivadier and Jacques Verzier fail to charm. The former looks permanently exasperated. Baron Gondremarck from Stockholm, the chief comic role, is played as a melancholy little man by Jean-Yves Chatelais (who, far from resembling a Swede, actually fits my notion of the stereotypical Frenchman). Frick, Urbain, and Pauline display some potential for humour, but the tone of the comedy is uneven. The Brazilian - a splendid cameo role in other productions - makes no impact at all. Most of the cast do not seem to be enjoying themselves enough to convey much joy to the audience.
This production is the full five-act version of "La Vie Parisienne", including a fourth act which is often cut. I fully approve of this from a musical standpoint: we get to hear the entire score. Given that the show never quite takes flight, however, viewers who are not confirmed enthusiasts for the music of Offenbach may well wish it were shorter. A performance of "La Vie Parisienne" that drags a bit? Yes, there must be something wrong.
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