La Vie Parisienne, Iford Festival

La Vie Parisienne
Iford Festival

CUTTING edge or what? Jeff Clarke opens his exuberant new production of La Vie Parisienne with a triumphantly steam punk parade, as a four-person train with REAL steam puffs into the cloister station to disgorge the characters for the evening’s entertainment. Wow!

And the fun doesn’t let up until the final chord is played by the excellent Chroma Chamber Ensemble.

There are always debates about the artistic validity of “garden opera”, but on a night like last Saturday there just wasn’t a more beautiful place to be than the gardens of Iford Manor near Bradford-on-Avon, enjoying Offenbach’s tale of love and social status performed by a top-class company with a director at the very peak of his delightful powers.

Two well-connected and fashionable men about town, Bobinet and Raoul, are pining for the attentions of the leading coquette, Metella, who has dumped them for a richer man. They vow to turn their back on expensive courtesans and instead court aristocratic women, who can pay their own way.

Bobinet sets off to woo a countess who turns out to have a short term shortfall, and he promises to lend her money he doesn’t have.

Raoul swaps places with his former butler and pretends to be a Parisian guide, taking a lecherous and gauche Swedish baron and his wife into his own home and passing it off as an hotel.

Add to this a glove maker, a bootmaker, some scheming servants and ill-conceived plans, and mayhem ensues.

The unexpected bit is where Metella realises that she really loves Raoul, but not before she sings an insightful aria that encapsulates the difference between the lives of the men who dip in and out of the demi-monde, and its women, who have no place to go once their looks have faded.

Riotously inventive costumes designed by Maria Lancashire are even flagged up by Jeff Clarke’s libretto.

Opera della Luna’s productions are always ensemble pieces, and this nine-strong company can’t be faulted, cast with a careful eye to personal charisma and chemistry. It was easy to believe that the beautiful Metella of Hannah Pedley and Anthony Flaum’s Raoul were inescapably in love, and Philip Cox’s libidinous baron was horribly convincing. Fine singing all round from a company who evidently enjoyed the experience as much as did the audience. I wish I could see it again. It continues until 16th July.



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