Editor: Marc Bridle


Webmaster: Len Mullenger





WWW MusicWeb

Search Music Web with FreeFind

Any Review or Article




Seen and Heard International Opera Review


Offenbach, La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein, MC2, Grenoble, September 24, 2004 (FC)

The big question is, can they do it again? The team of conductor Marc Minkowski and stage designer Laurent Pelly won all the critics awards around for their sparkling season 2000-2001 performances of Offenbach’s La Belle Hél ne at Théâtre Châtelet in Paris. It was such a hit it became a fixture at that theater each holiday season for the next three years. The bright, contemporary staging, filled with a wit which seemed to spring naturally from the score and script, is now on DVD and was widely praised when released.

It is not surprising that this same team’s take on another Offenbach work, La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein, is one of the most anticipated events of the Paris season. The pre-Paris performances were part of the celebration of the opening of Grenoble’s new Maison de la Culture in this town in foothills of the French Alps. The old building was completely rebuilt, in a six-year project, and the opening ceremonies included Marc Minkowski because of his residency there with his Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble. Vital too is the help of the boy wonder of the French stage, Laurent Pelly, who happens to direct the theater program at the center.

The new complex, dubbed MC2, has both a theater, with 1050 seats, and an auditorium for concerts and recitals that seats 1000 plus a smaller theater and a modular space for experimental work. The rehearsal spaces for the ballet and theater have glass walls which allow citizens of Grenoble to see how some of their tax dollars are being spent and the spacious lobby can hold the entire intermission crowd when the temperature dips outside.

The new staging of Gerolstein gives the impression of darkness and it does not mesh well with the always bubbly music. Some might find a contemporary message in the plot: a bored and dim-witted leader decides to take the nation to war without having a specific enemy in mind, well supported in the decision by scheming advisors and arrogant, incompetent Generals. But this is, after all, the postage stamp-size nation of Gerolstein and the leader is the delicious soprano Felicity Lott as the Grand Duchess.


Credit photo: M N Robert

Pelly’s army, with camouflage battle fatigues and rifles, have a dangerous contemporary feel but their pie tin helmets betray their lack of murderous intent. The pervasive somberness of the décor is emphasized by the opening curtain where the stage is littered with bodies of soldiers as from a war. We learn, before the end of the overture, that they are all only sleeping off drink but the olive-drab set does not well frame the spry comedy which follows in Meilhac and Halévy‘s libretto. Act II is set in a room in the Duchesse’s palace (sets by Chantal Thomas) but it seems more like the Addams Family than any Second Empire takeoff. Even the arrival of the Duchess herself singing her well-known "Ah, que j’aime les militaires" seemed overall rather sober. One of the great comic characters of the French musical stage, General Boum, here played gruffly by Francois Le Roux, seems more menacing than funny.

But the talented cast - except for Dame Felicity, all French - perform with a zeal and fresh energy that you would expect from a Pelly production. The engaging lovers, Fritz by tenor Yann Beron and the Wanda of Sandrine Piau, do a bit of unnecessary mugging but sing with style and engagement.

Despite the unaccustomed heaviness, there is much to like in this production. Miss Lott can still make Offenbach roles come alive as no one else and shows no signs of slowing down. Minkowski’s obvious delight and dedication to this music is still much in evidence. He conducts his orchestra with an energy and lightness that shows the best side of the often delicious music which has been recently, more often than not, badly played. Pelly’s wit is still in evidence and, despite the gloom, still can cause a laugh. Laura Scozzi’s choreography is still wondrously lively and go-go contemporary. Franck Laguerinel, as Baron Puck, Erick Huchet as Prince Paul and Boris Grappe as Baron Grog, make a light-hearted gang of eager, if not always loyal, courtiers.

This opera opened at Théâtre Châtelet October 5 and will run in Paris until October 20. It will also return from December 9 through January 2 in the same venue. Since this performance will be offered during the Christmas holidays on French television, can we assume that that DVD is only a matter of time? Is La Pé richole next?


Frank Cadenhead

Back to the Top     Back to the Index Page






MusicWeb - The International Web Site Founder: Len Mullenger [UK], Classical Editor: Rob Barnett [UK],  Regular Reviewers:   Steve Arloff [UK], Guy Aron [Australia], Tony Augarde [UK], Terry Barfoot [UK], Melinda Bargreen [USA], David J. Barker [Australia], Rob Barnett [UK], Nick Barnard [UK], Robert Beattie [UK], Dave Billinge [UK], Peter Bright [UK], Byzantion [UK], Colin Clarke [UK], Dominy Clements [Netherlands], Michael Cookson [UK], Hubert Culot [Belgium], Evan Dickerson [UK], Gavin Dixon [UK], Robert J. Farr [UK], Christopher Fifield [UK], Göran Forsling [Sweden], John France [UK], Patrick Gary [USA], Pierre Giroux [CAN], Paul C. Godfrey [UK], Michael Greenhalgh [UK], William Hedley [France], Gary Higginson [UK], Neil Horner [UK], Robert Hugill UK], David Jennings [UK], Bill Kenny [UK], William S Kreindler [USA], Ian Lace [UK], Em Marshall-Luck [UK], Oleg Ledeniov [USA]Rob Maynard [UK], David A McConnell [USA], Kirk McElhearn [France], Robert McKechnie [UK], Ralph Moore [RMo] [UK], Dan Morgan [UK], Margarida Mota-Bull [UK], Glyn Pursglove [UK], John Quinn [UK], Carla Rees [UK], Brian Reinhart [USA], Donald Satz [USA], Mark Sealey [USA], John Sheppard [UK], George Stacy, Kevin Sutton [USA], Bert Thompson [USA], Simon Thompson [UK], Zane Turner [Australia], Steve Vasta [UK], Johan van Veen [Netherlands], Raymond Walker [UK], Derek Warby [UK], Brian Wilson [UK], Jonathan Woolf [UK] Leslie Wright [USA]. A complete list of contributors can be seen here


Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

MusicWeb International thank Naxos for the no-strings use of their server to mount the website.