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"L'Etoile est morceau delicieux

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Jun 23, 2006 - 12:00:00 AM in reviews_2006

"L’Etoile," the much-anticipated comic opera by Emmanuel Chabrier that opened the second week of Cincinnati Opera’s summer festival Thursday night at Music Hall, est morceau delicieux.
   Who would have guessed from looking at that black scrim that covered the stage, with just the pale outline of a star (etoile)?
   After a spirited Overture led by conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni, the curtain rose on a male chorus in black trench coats, bowler hats, sunglasses, spats and white gloves. Curved, mirrored walls framed the set as spotlights created pools of light on the floor. The men crept stealthily across the stage, hoisting umbrellas and warning of King Ouf, on the prowl for a victim for his next public execution.
   Ouf, French tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt, literally rolled onstage inside a large circular contraption, emerging in a white fur coat, hat and gloves, also wearing shades and toting an umbrella. The men avoided his attempts to trap them into insulting him – and earning death by waving small flags and singing his praises.
   The fun ratcheted up when four travelers, led by tenor Gerard Powers as ambassador Herisson, skateboarded onstage and sang of the joys of being shopkeepers, though actually they are diplomats and must exercise secrecy for its own sake. Lazuli, a peddler of women’s cosmetics (mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera) sang on a star (O petite etoile) and fell asleep, but was tickled awake by two of the travelers Laoula (soprano Nathalie Paulin) and Aloes (mezzo-soprano Elspeth Kincaid).
   The outwardly ridiculous but parodistic plot, with its not so veiled barbs at mis-government, is wrapped in music as fizzy as an ice cream soda. The production, from New York City Opera, is eye-popping – dig the huge inflated chair in act II and the stage action combines Monty Python (lots of funny walks) with the Folies Bergeres.
   The spoken dialogue, translated by Pascal Blanchet, combines French and English to side-splitting effect. Musically, the opera boasts a score laden with melody and such delightful ensembles such as the "Kissing Quartet" in act II with its rapturous "ah’s" by Laoula and Aloes as they are smooched by Lazuli and Tapioca (baritone Phillip Addis).
   As Ouf, Fouchecourt sang and acted with great authority, joining bass Kevin Glavin as the astrologer Siroco (a hoot in red fez and yellow raincoat) in a delightfully tipsy scene where they toasted their impending deaths with green chartreuse as green tinsel swayed across the back of the stage.
   Rivera displayed a luscious voice as Lazuli, combining it with sneezes in her tour de force aria "Enfin, je me sens mieux" as Lazuli whose life or death is key to Ouf’s and Siroco’s emerged from near drowning.
   Enough cannot be said for the men and women of the Chorus, who not only sang but danced and acted like musical theater professionals throughout. Zeitouni and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra put all the beauty and brie in Chabrier’s masterful score.
   Don’t miss this one. All remaining seats for Saturday’s 8 p.m. repeat at Music Hall are $35. Call (513) 241-2742,
(first published in The Cincinnati Post June 23, 2006)