Raoul de Gardefeu ANTHONY FLAUM
Joseph/Alphonse/Urbain/Mme Quimper-Karadec CARL SANDERSON
Metella /Leonie HANNAH PEDLEY
Station Porter/Gontran/Frick/Mme Folle-Verdure/Alfred
Baron Gondremarke PHILIP COX

Choreographer JENNY ARNOLD
Costume supervisor MARIA LANCASHIRE
Steam-punk “trains” DIANA DE MOL
Act 3 costumes JANET MORRIS
Acts 4 & 5 costumes KIRSTY ROWE

La Vie Parisienne (The Fine Times Recorder)

"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. "


La Vie Parisienne (Venue)

"They both inhabit the fevered world of the mid-19th century Paris Demi-monde, but there any useful parallels between Verdi’s searing 'La Traviata' (which opened the Iford 2013 season) and Offenbach’s frothy 'La Vie Parisienne' (which continues it) end. And anyone forgetting to pack the ‘sparkly’ for the pre-opera picnic need not despair: Jeff Clarke’s Opera Della Luna production of Offenbach’s zippy operetta has fizz to spare. From the human locomotive that disgorges its passengers in a billow of steam at the opening, to the final exuberance of a hyperactive Cancan, there’s an energy that seizes the Gilbert-and-Sullivan-with-added-ooo-la-la and runs with it faster than Mo Farah breasting the home strait. Even Clarke’s (mostly) deft translation adds to the exuberance – and at one point manages to rhyme ‘squiffy’ with ‘stiffy’.

Impossibly Inspector Clouseau-esque accents run a warm bath of comic caricature for the French rivals Raoul and Brobinet (deliciously hammed up by Anthony Flaum and Oliver White), and there’s an arch vein of Kenny Everett camperie that offsets the ice maiden sang froid of the Swedish Baroness Grandremark and her perpetually bewildered husband (Victoria Joyce and Philip Cox). Cue more comic accents of course - though no allusions to Ikea! – and by now the cross-border Babel only needs the arrival of some lederhosen-slapping Germans to complete a line-up calculated to set UKIP blood racing. (John Stacey’s Frick the shoemaker, cunningly modelled on Herr Lip of League of Gentlemen renown, would have stolen the show if it weren’t for his equally adroit hilarious limp-wristed valet and imperious Maitre D.)

Geoffrey Paterson (winner of the 2009 Leeds Conductors Competition) kept the score bubbling along at a rolling boil, obtaining some spirited playing from Chroma, and ensuring that the Act V finale had enough lead in its pencil to keep a graphite factory in business for decades. The electric piano jarred a little, but then Peto’s Italianate cloister is not over-endowed with space when it comes to accommodating an 11-piece pit band. Paterson’s already benefited from experience at The Royal Opera House, Bayreuth and Glyndebourne. It would be instructive for Iford to set up a re-match with something more meaty than Offenbach’s Parisian answer to Viennese whipped cream. The singing, meanwhile, emerged as a stylish ensemble achievement gilded by Hannah Pedley’s silkily coquettish courtesan, and, emerging from beneath a mass of blond hair resembling an elaborately-coiffeured haystack, the laser-sharp coloratura of Victoria Joyce’s Baroness.

Nigel Howard’s and Maria Lancashire’s set did just enough to conjure an imaginative and persuasive milieu, with an ever-changing catwalk of sumptuous (sometimes witty) costumes fleshing out the opulent back-story. By the end it wasn’t just the cast requiring stamina to surf the endless ebullience. But as Miranda Hart’s fictional TV mother might have said: ‘such fun!’"

Paul Riley
Copyright Paul Riley 2013

La Vie Parisienne (The Stage)

"Lunacy reigns at Iford Manor, where this tiny but choice venue for summer opera resounds to the merry strains of Offenbach’s wickedly worldly opera bouffe in Opera della Luna’s extraordinarily energetic production directed by the inspired Jeff Clarke.

Offenbach’s dramatic style - buoyant, anarchic, lip-smackingly sexual - has proved hard to reproduce in UK productions, but here Clarke’s fidelity to the spirit and often the letter of the original pays dividends; Act IV, which was cut from all but the first staging in Offenbach’s lifetime, is included, making the show on the long side, but also giving us an idea of its real scope and nature. Clarke’s Franglais translation is also a plus, and snappily delivered by the cast, with the two young Parisian rakes - Anthony Flaum’s Gardefeu and Oliver White’s Bobinet - both superbly entertaining. Once or twice accents - French or Swedish mainly - come adrift, but the sense of surreal hilarity is maintained throughout.

Musical values, too, are high. Geoffrey Paterson leads a precise and spirited account of the score, with strong singing from all the principals and peppy playing from the Chroma Chamber Ensemble. Thibault Perrine’s reduced version of the score has been expertly done.

The company work their socks off, many of them doubling and tripling roles of whatever sex to get us through the absurdist complexities of Offenbach’s crazy day in the tempting world of Parisian vice. Philip Cox’s Baron Gondremark loses his dignity more times than a House of Commons full of MPs. It’s a delightful show by a company that is fast approaching national treasure status."

George Hall