Opera Scotland

Vie Parisienne La vie parisienne; Parisian Life

Music
Jacques Offenbach (born Cologne, 20 June 1819; died Paris, 5 October 1880)

Text
Henri Meilhac & Ludovic Halévy.

Source
An elaboration of their own original one-act farce.

 

Premières
First performance: Paris (Théâtre du Palais-Royal), 31 October 1866.
First UK performance: London (Holborn Theatre), 13 March 1872.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Alhambra Theatre), 11 April 1964 (probably earlier).
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 4 September 1985.

 

Background
Offenbach’s reputation rested on an extensive series of musical farces and satires. This piece was designed perhaps as a curtain-raiser for the 1867 Great Exhibition and was performed at a theatre which generally put on more sophisticated productions. In a plot which is almost a fore-runner of Feydeau’s farces, a group of French characters encounters a number of foreign visitors who have come to Paris for the celebrations.

 

Main Characters
Bobinet, a man-about-town, heir to a Duchess (baritone)
Raoul de Gardefeu, his friend (tenor)
Métella, a courtesan (mezzo-soprano)
Baron Gondremarck, a Swedish aristocrat (baritone)
Christine, his wife (mezzo-soprano)
A Brazilian millionaire (tenor)
Gabrielle, a glove-maker (soprano)
Pauline, a maidservant (soprano)
Frick, a cobbler (tenor)

 

Plot Summary
The opera opens at the railway station. Two men about town, Bobinet and Raoul, and Raoul’s ex-lover, Métella, are looking for new arrivals to exploit. They fasten on a Swedish count and countess. The Swedes are looking for various types of entertainment not available at home, and, naïve innocents abroad, are happy to be advised by the local experts.

Raoul takes the Swedes to his home, passing it off as a hotel, with his friends and tradesmen impersonating other guests. A party is then arranged using an empty mansion, staffed by associates of the two men. Finally they all meet at a restaurant. All attempts at seducing the Swedes have failed, and they prepare to return home having thoroughly enjoyed their stay in Paris.

 

RECORDINGS

EMI (2 CDs) Sung in French Recorded 1976
Conductor: Michel Plasson
Capitole Orchestra, Toulouse
Régine Crespin (Métella), Michel Sénéchal (Raoul), Michel Trempont (Bobinet).

A classic recording with masters of the style. The cast also includes Mady Mesplé as Gabrielle. Michel Plasson conducted a series of Offenbach recordings around this time, the best of which use completely French casts led by Crespin. Even though she was nearing the end of a magnificently versatile career, her voice is effortless and she projects great character.

 

EMI Classics for Pleasure (2 CDs) Sung in English Recorded 1961

Excerpts, coupled with excerpts from La belle Hélène and Orpheus in the Underworld.
Conductor: Alexander Faris.
Sadler’s Wells Opera Orchestra
Suzanne Steele (Métella), Jon Weaving (Raoul), Kevin Miller (Bobinet).

One of a series of four Offenbach operettas produced by Sadler’s Wells in the 1960s – sadly Bluebeard was not recorded – La vie parisienne was a less enduring production than the others, but the recording is still well worth hearing. Gabrielle is sung by June Bronhill, the Swedish Count by Eric Shilling and the comic Brazilian millionaire by John Fryatt.

The Cast

Alfred
 head waiter at the Café Anglais
Alphonse
 Raoul's butler
Baron Gondremarck
 of Sweden
Baroness Christine
 Gondremarck's wife
Bobinet
 nephew and heir of a Duchess
Brazilian
 a millionaire
Claire
 niece to the Duchess's major-domo
Frick
 a cobbler
Gabrielle
 a glove-maker
Gontran
 a Cabinet Minister
Horace
 the Duchess's footman
Joseph
 an official guide, formerly Raoul's valet
Louise
 niece to the Duchess's major-domo
Métella
 a courtesan
Patrice
 a servant in the Duchess's household
Pauline
 the Duchess's maid
Prosper
 a servant in the Duchess's household
Raoul
 Vicomte de Gardefeu, friend of Bobinet
Station Master
 

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