Opera della Luna’s Offenbach Double Bill

Jacques Offenbach wrote nearly 100 operettas, many of which have not been staged in recent years. So it was enterprising of Opera della Luna to present a double bill of Croquefer and The Isle of Tulipatan. This was my third encounter with the composer during the last couple of months, after the more familiar Vie Parisienne at the RNCM and Orphée aux enfers at Liège; and it was the most enjoyable of the three.

For a start, the works themselves were great fun, particularly the zany Croquefer which involved a military encounter between two old rivals, one of whom had lost many of his bodily parts including his tongue (thus enabling Offenbach to claim that as the fifth character on the stage be did not breach the term of theatre licence that allowed for only four singers). At the end, peace is only restored when one of the characters gets them all to drink a potion which gives them diarrhoea, thus inhibiting violent action. The plot of Tulipatan is perhaps somewhat less original, centring on a projected marriage between a son who was brought up a girl and a daughter who was brought up a boy. But it too had its moments.

Both pieces were given in Jeff Clarke’s witty updated translation and he was also responsible for the hilarious production. Much of the comedy may have been broad but it was conceived with so much ingenuity and performed with such zest that the audience were captivated by it. Clarke was alert to the perception that, as in commedia del arte, extreme caricature adds to, rather than detracts from, the pleasure.

The cast (Robin Bailey, Lynsey Docherty, Paul Featherstone, Caroline Kennedy, Carl Sanderson) were all first-rate and if some of the singing had a roughness which detracted from  the elegance of Offenbach’s vocal line, that was all to the good because it reinforced the spontaneity of the proceedings. To make Offenbach “pretty” would be to blunt the sharpness of his creativity.