RNCM’s Youthful Enthusiasm and Colourful Costumes in Offenbach’s Lively Romp

13/12/2016

Offenbach, La Vie Parisienne: RNCM Chorus, RNCM Opera Orchestra / Andrew Greenwood (conductor), RNCM Theatre, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 9.12.2016. (MC)

Cast:
Raoul de Gardefeu – Ranald McCusker
Bobinet – Samuel Jackson
Métella – Alexander Lowe
Gontran – Matthew Nuttall
Antoine – Liam McNally
Lord Ellington – Neil Balfour
Lady Ellington – Daniela Sicari
The Brazilian – David Thomas
Urbain – Timothy Bagley
First Maidservant – Lucy Temby
Frick – Michael Jones
Gabriella – Margarita Wood
Leonie – Rebecca Barry
Clara – Naomi Rogers
Louise – Chelsea Burns
First Waiter – Joseph Gawley
Dancers and Chorus

Production:
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy (performed in an English translation by Alistair Beaton)
Stuart Barker – Director
Simone Romaniuk – Set and Costume Design
Michael Gunning – Lighting Design
Bethan Rhys Wilam – Choreographer
Natalie Grady – Dialogue Coach
Kevin Thraves – Chorus Master

Stage director Stuart Barker and his team at RNCM Opera presented Offenbach’s colourful operetta La Vie Parisienne as its autumn production. For this staging there are two different casts to allow broad opportunity of stage experience for the college students. My Seen and Heard International colleague has already covered the first cast and this report concerns the second cast.

I admit to some surprise when I saw that La Vie Parisienne had been chosen. It’s a lively and entertaining romp but certainly no neglected masterwork, which Offenbach aimed more at actors rather than singers. When premièred successfully in 1866, at Théâtre du Palais-Royal Paris, the opera-bouffe was in five acts and set in 1860s. In the 150th anniversary year of its première, Barker is using a two act version of La Vie Parisienne prepared by celebrated political satirist Alistair Beaton. This version brings the action forward to the 1930s, where cosmopolitan gaiety in ‘Gay Paree’ has reached new heights of agreeable frivolity.

After the Gilbert and Sullivan-like overture immediately the curtain opened Simone Romaniuk’s stunning set and stylish costumes took the eye. Throughout the four scenes the sets were undoubtedly the success of the production. The opening set for example was a colourful scene of a busy Parisian railway station which featured on the rear wall a large leaded glass window with clock, five red pillars each holding a pair of globe lights, signs to several station platforms, a flight of stairs, luggage trolleys and a flower sellers stall.

Boulevardier Raoul de Gardefeu was played by rangy Ranald McCusker decked out in a brown three-piece pinstripe suit. Acting and singing admirably, tenor McCusker soon settled into the role of the society dreamer looking for romance and meeting a “lady of distinction”. The role of Gardefeu’s friend Bobinet taken by Samuel Jackson dressed in a light grey suit, later in an admiral’s outfit, successfully created an affable character without standing out too much. In last year’s production of Weill’s Street Scene, I enthused that Alexandra Lowe stole the show; well here she did it again as Métella with an engaging performance of considerable maturity with an innate stage presence. A tower of strength, her unforced voice stood out like a beacon and is just made for musicals. Generously attractive and radiantly warm in tone, Lowe’s bright soprano filled every corner of the theatre.

Neil Balfour excelled as Lord Ellington the minor English aristocrat wearing a loud houndstooth-patterned suit, giving a convincing performance with considerable stage presence. Very much at home in the role Balfour used his attractive voice, smooth with a slight dark edge, to his best advantage. Glove-maker Gabrielle is a major part played with assurance and charm by Margarita Wood. The Canadian forced her pleasing soprano hard and it responded with efficiency showing only minor strain. David Thomas took the role of the Brazilian dapper, white-suited millionaire with appropriate good humour. Urbain, dressed correctly in butler’s livery, was promisingly played by the tall and bearded Timothy Bagley and I would love to see him in a more prominent role. Liam McNally played the guide Antoine making a good job of the comedy. Doing all that was asked of them were Daniela Sicari as Lady Ellington and Michael Jones, who was highly amusing as bootmaker Frick.

With a cast generally more noticeable for its youthful enthusiasm than for stellar singing, all the voices fought to be heard at various times with the exception of Lowe, whose voice was clear as a bell. Under the baton of Andrew Greenwood the orchestra was on fine form producing excellent intonation and unity and the chorus has been well trained by Kevin Thraves.

The set and costumes made the amusing La Vie Parisienne colourful entertainment with Alexandra Lowe giving a well rounded performance of real maturity.

Michael Cookson

This double cast production can still be seen on: December 13th, 15th, at 7.30pm and Sunday 11th and Saturday 17th at 3pm.

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