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Offenbach – La vie parisienne
Guildhall School of Music & Drama
11 & 17 March 2008

Conductor – Clive Timms
Director: Martin Lloyd-Evans
Designer: Bridget Kimak
Choreographer: Victoria Newlyn
Lighting: Colin Grenfell

Bobinet: Lukas Kargl
Raoul de Gardefeu: John Bacon
Metella: Melanie Lang
Baron de Gondremarck: Benedict Nelson / Jean-Philippe Elleouet
Baroness de Gondremarck: Lisa Wilson
The Brazilian: Adrian Ward
Alphonse: Gary Griffiths
Frick / Prosper: Amar Muchhala
Gabrielle: Daire Halpin / Emily Rowley Jones
Urbain: Ritz de Ridder
Maids: Sarah Power, Eva Ganizate, Elena Sancho, Lilly Papaioannou

This was a show really fizzing with care-free frivolity. Operetta is something that rarely makes an appearance on London stages and even then is too often disappointing, so hats off to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama for a gloriously high spirited production of Offenbach’s La vie parisienne.

The plot revolves around the visit of a Swedish Baron and Baroness.  Whilst the Baron is determined to sample the pleasures of the Paris demi-monde a couple of boulevardiers have their sights set on the attractive Baroness.  In a series of ever more outrageous deceptions, in which artisans and servants pose as the members of the aristocracy, a thoroughly good time is had by all, and even when Metella and the Baroness finally set the record straight, a mood of cheerfulness persists.

In this production the curtain rose to a Magritte-like back drop with fluffy white clouds floating on an azure sky as the chorus assembled to watch the world flocking to Paris.  The awaited train appeared to emerge straight from the proscenium arch combining a splendid coup to theatre with a reference to La Durée poignardée and the fun began.

Conductor and director had teamed up to prepare a new translation (the programme credits Clive Timms with the lyrics and Martin Lloyd-Evans with dialogue) which proved both entertaining and deliverable.   Witticisms abounded, and Lloyd Evans directed with a sure touch, keeping the humour just short of farcical. 

The students took part with obvious relish and sang very stylishly.  There too many good performances to mention them all individually, so I will simply confine myself to the ones that particularly stuck in my mind.  Lisa Wilson (Baroness) managing to combine a hint of a Swedish accent into otherwise very sharp diction whether speaking or singing, both Benedict Nelson and Jean-Philippe Elleouet for very sharp portrayals of the bumbling Baron, Lukas Kargl and John Bacon indefatigable as Bobinet and Gardefeu, Sarah Power really making her presence felt as Pauline, Amar Muchhala and Ritz de Ridder quite outrageously funny as Prosper and Urbain – with the former also outstanding as Frick, the eccentric German bootmaker. 

The chorus played an important part, and should have had their names listed in the programme (although I think I noted some changes on the two evenings), especially the anonymous gentleman strolling around in a bowler hat, who managed to keep the Magritte theme running to the end of the show. 

The orchestra sounded fantastic under the baton Clive Timms, keeping up the high spirits throughout.  Along with the rest of the audience I enjoyed every wonderful minute – I would happily have seen all four performances!

Serena Fenwick



Photo credit Nobby Clark