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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Un mari à la porte, Operetta in one act (1859)
Libretto by Alfred Delacour and Léon Morand
Henri Martel – Patrizio La Placa (baritone)
Suzanne – Marina Ogii (mezzo-soprano)
Florestan Ducroquet – Matteo Mezzaro (tenor)
Rosita – Francesca Benitez (soprano)
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Valerio Galli
Luigi di Gangi and Ugo Giacomazzi (directors), Federica Parolini (set design), Agnese Rabatti (costume design), Luigi Biondi (light design)
Video directed by Matteo Ricchetti
Bonus track – interviews [4 mins]
rec. February 2019 at Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Firenza, Italy
Picture Format: 1080i - High Definition - 16.9 - All Regions
Sound formats: PCM Stereo/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
DYNAMIC Blu-ray 57844 [47 mins]

Jacques Offenbach composed the one-act operetta Un mari à la porte in 1859. The work was premiered at the Salle Lacaze, in Paris, by the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens on 22nd June 1859, remaining in their repertoire for a long time. This operetta is not one of Offenbach’s best known or one of his best works but from a chronological perspective comes between two of his masterpieces: Orphée aux enfers (21st October 1858) and Geneviève de Brabant (11th November 1859). It is seldom performed today but at the time, it was a very popular work in Paris, as well as other European cities, extensively performed until the end of the 19th Century. In the UK, however, it only had its premiere in February 1950 at the Fortune Theatre on Russell Street (near Covent Garden) in London.

Un mari à la porte lasts a mere 43 minutes, which made me wonder why Dynamic created a Blu-ray with only this operetta and didn’t try to combine it with another one-act piece even if from a different composer. The plot of Un mari à la porte is slightly silly and convoluted, full of misunderstandings, as is often the case in comic French and Italian operas or operettas of the period. In a dark room at midnight, Florestan, an operetta composer fleeing a jealous husband, creditors and a bailiff, drops down (literally) from the chimney in Suzanne’s room. The waltz of a wedding party can be heard. Florestan hides in a cupboard or a wardrobe just as the young newly-wed Suzanne and her friend Rosita enter the room. Suzanne has just had an argument with her new husband. Rosita is trying to convince her to return to the dance and sings a Valse Tyrolienne. After which she leaves the room and Suzanne finds Florestan. Worried appearances can be deceptive and fearing for her honour she pleads with him to leave by the window into the garden so no-one can see him and misunderstand what is going on. However, the room is on the third floor and so, leaving that way doesn’t work. When Rosita returns – and after Florestan has explained his latest operetta was refused by the Bouffes Parisiens – they ponder together on a way for him to get out unnoticed. As Florestan details his story to the two women, he comes to realise that Suzanne’s young husband, Henri Martel, is the bailiff he is fleeing from. In the meantime, Martel knocks at the locked door of the room. He hears Florestan’s voice and believes that Suzanne is trying to make him jealous. In the ensuing confusion they drop the key out of the window. Still outside the room, Martel pretends to shoot himself. Then he goes to get another key for the room. While he is away Florestan is preparing to jump down to the street when he suddenly remembers that an old aunt of his has promised to pay his debts if he gets married. He asks Rosita to marry him. After her initial astonishment and reluctance, she finally accepts. As the curtain falls, the husband (Martel) enters the door.

This staging of Un mari à la porte is a new production by the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, in Florence and was filmed there in February 2019. It is very colourful and lively. Actually, to call it colourful is a bit of an understatement. It has a touch of vaudeville, outrageously flamboyant costumes and head gear (all superbly designed by Agnese Rabatti), plus a continuous surge, or better, exuberant explosions of colour from every corner of the stage, costumes, make-up and props. The directors say that it is supposed to be a cage of birds (echoes of La cage aux folles) and thus the cast is dressed in a way that attempts to resemble the colourful feathers of some birds, especially birds of paradise. The cast is supposed to behave and act as if they were birds. For that effect they received a letter before rehearsals started, telling them as much.

The bonus track contains interviews with the conductor, the singer performing Rosita and one of the directors. He states that this new production is a kind of homage to his childhood films with the popular comic Italian duo of Toto e Peppino. It makes the production all the more endearing once you understand this.

Offenbach’s score to a libretto by Alfred Delacour and Léon Morand is charming and pleasant and although not in the same league as The Tales of Hofmann (1881) or Orpheus in the Underworld (1858 as mentioned earlier) to name just two, it has some very good music and a couple of memorable moments: Florestan’s comic lamentation, a quartet (with the baritone back stage) and most notably the lovely Valse Tyrolienne, sung by the soprano.

The cast is very good, especially the two women: soprano Francesca Benitez as Rosita and particularly mezzo Marina Ogii as Suzanne. Tenor Matteo Mezzaro does an excellent job with Florestan, displaying a humorous streak and fine comic timing. Baritone Patrizio La Placa, as Martel, has the more subtle role of the four but performs it with panache, evidently relishing it throughout. The Orchestra del Teatro Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under the accomplished baton of Valerio Galli is exceptionally good and does justice to Offenbach’s score.

The booklet contains notes on Offenbach and Un mari à la porte by Danilo Prefumo, as well as a synopsis of the plot, both in Italian and English. The operetta is sung in the original in French, with subtitles in Italian, English, French, German, Japanese and Korean. As I mentioned, it lasts only 43 minutes but it is joyful and funny. In my view a welcoming, entertaining treat that will give you some laughs – something rather precious in our current troubled times, invariably dominated by the sad news related to Covid-19.

Margarida Mota-Bull
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at www.flowingprose.com)



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