Magazine article The Spectator

Tarnished Night

Magazine article The Spectator

Tarnished Night

Article excerpt

I thought I'd start a heavy operatic week with a delightful Gallic upbeat, in the form of Chabrier's L'Etoile, or as it would have been less misleadingly called, The Star, performed by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Big mistake. I have had so many evenings of almost unalloyed pleasure from the GSMD, including several of comic operas - I remember their Gianni Schicchi as being the best I have seen that I was grinning confidently almost before the opera began. That smile was soon wiped off my face, to be replaced by an evening-long grimace of dismay and embarrassment.

Evidently Thomas de Mallet Burgess, the producer, thinks that silly walks, regional accents, exaggerated facial expressions, are enough to provoke mirth. They didn't, even among the more than willing members of the audience. As soon as grannies with Zimmer frames appeared, the moment the curtain rose, I knew we were in for an occasion of ponderous and witless galumphing, but it was a little time before it became clear how dreadful Jeremy Sams's jokes were all going to be, how mercilessly the cast was going to milk them, how utterly any vestige of the spirit of Chabrier was to be eliminated. Even the musical side of things wasn't what I have come to expect, with foursquare conducting from Clive Timms, and no trace of male vocal talent. What enjoyment there was to be had, supposing one was resilient enough to enjoy anything in this desert of tedium, came from the winning Lazuli of Majka Kaiser (a New Zealander sporting a strong Scottish accent) and Kate Royal's Princess Laoula. The GSMD used not to think that operetta, whenever it came, had to be done in leaden G&S style, and let's hope that they soon recover from that tiresome error.

Duparc called L'Etoile 'a French Meistersinger', one of the more obvious signs of his psychological malaise. The next evening the German version, the thing itself, maybe even the thing in itself, was on superb display at the Royal Opera, and provided me with the happiest experience I have had in the opera house for many years. It is, true, in the cosy staging of Graham Vick, with some cute designs by Richard Hudson. Familiarity breeds tolerance, at least, and when the musical side of the performance is as splendid as this is, it would be a churl - there are plenty around - who failed to warm to it.

Mark Wigglesworth's conducting is, in many ways, preferable to that of Haitink, the only previous conductor of this production. That was always a noble and highly symphonic conception, but lacked the dramatic flair that this work evidently requires. …

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