Chabrier’s L’etoile in Amsterdam

It was not a large audience at Amsterdam’s Musiektheater for Chabrier’s comic piece L’Etoile and the absentees missed a treat. The music is, of course, witty and inventive, but it needs finesse in the orchestra pit, idiomatic singing, well spoken French dialogue, and a production which captures the comedy but does not downgrade it into vulgarity. The Dutch National Opera performance succeeded on all of these points. With the experienced Residentie Orchestra of the Hague to work with, the conductor Patrick Fournillier brought out the brilliance and humour in the score. The articulation of both spoken and sung text was excellent, unsurprisingly since the principals were all francophone.

Stephane d’Oustrac as Lazuli was outstanding: her rich mezzo voice had a lightness when called for and adapted well to the sprightliness of the music, and its nuances, being able even to sneeze at the appropriate pitch.  She also combined considerable stage presence with physical alertness.  Christophe Mortagne as the King Ouf I has had the advantage of a career shared between the lyrical and straight theatre – including the Comédie Française – and, in a role which lends itself to routine slapstick and coarseness, was able to invest his interpretation with freshness and originality.

And that goes for the production as a whole. I have not always liked Laurent Pelly’s work, but here he and his designers Chantal Thomas and Jean-Jacques Delmotte found the right balance between caricature and sentimentality and between stylisation and realism. Luckily for me, this was only the third performance in the run, and there was a sharpness and a discipline to the ensemble scenes – special praise, then, for the chorus and their director Nicholas Jenkins.