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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Barbe Bleue, opéra bouffe (1866)
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Count Barbe-Bleue – Yann Beuron (tenor), Boulotte – Héloïse Mas (soprano), Popolani – Christophe Gay (bass), King Bobeche – Christophe Mortagne (tenor), Fleurette – Jennifer Courcier (soprano), Count Oscar – Thibault de Damas (bass), Prince Saphir – Carl Ghazarossian (tenor), Queen Clementine – Aline Martin (soprano)
Chorus & Orchestra of Opéra de Lyon/Michele Spotti
Laurent Pelly (direction), Philippe Rebboah (lighting), Barrie Kosky (stage direction)
rec. Opéra de Lyon, Lyon, France, 25 and 29 June 2019
DVD 16:9 NTSC All Regions Stereo/Dolby Surround 5.1
French, English, German, Japanese and Korean subtitles
OPUS ARTE OA1336D DVD [123 mins]

Offenbach wrote Barbe Bleue, or Bluebeard, in 1866 after the 1864 success of La Belle Hélène. It was presented at the same Théâtre des Variétés where Offenbach premiered a block of operas of his vast output at that period, including La Vie Parisienne and La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein. He was then at the zenith of popularity.

Staged performances of Barbe Bleue have been recorded (review), and there also are semi-staged performance. Among the productions in the past two decades, widely different in their interpretation of the work, one remembers those at the Buxton Festival in 2007, and at Grange Park in 2008. Laurent Pelly is not new to Offenbach. He directed many of his gems for Opéra de Lyon. He has worked out how to present a lively show and to keep the flow. Michele Spotti conducts at a good pace for the bright music to optimize the tunefulness of Offenbach’s style, and there is an excellent orchestral balance.

The character of Boulotte must hold the audience’s attention. Héloïse Mas does not disappoint. Her earthy farmyard background and sullen innocence in Act I work well. From the first aria The village maids may all deride me, one notices a velvety-toned charm. Later the energy, musicality and clarity of her lyrical mezzo is lovely, so one increasingly warms to her. As Count Bluebeard, Yann Beuron has timbre and strength of voice to fit the role admirably. He brings gravity to a powerful personality – until Boulotte upstages him. The chorus occasionally lacks power in delivery (but this could be a recording difficulty), and they may have benefitted from more of a choreographic presence. They often appear in regimented rows rather than clusters of informal groupings, and that mars the stage picture.

A comic tea scene at the beginning of Act II is nicely played. Christophe Mortagne as King Bobeche adds much comedy in his rather eccentric portrayal of a dignitary who has to be organised by his head courtier. A well-written ensemble Go take her away for Bluebeard, Boulotte, the King, the Queen and courtiers rounds off the Act. Instead of the Alchemist’s cave for Act III, we find ourselves in a dungeon mortuary. Bluebeard and Boulotte sing their vivacious duet with energy and commitment.

There are a few inconsistencies in this production. The chorus is told to move away so they will not be shot – but the upcoming fight is to be with the swords they hold. Reference made to the wives’ tombstones clashes with morgue-style drawers. Other than that, there are good settings that offer contrast, from a rural farmyard to an elegant palace assembly room.

The lighting is a disappointment: it does not always reflect the mood of the vocal descriptions. Act I opens in gloom that is meant to be daybreak, with lyrics of the sun rising and bees buzzing, yet we have the appearance of a cold winter’s night. The bright music also calls for warmth in the visual picture. Even Count Bluebeard’s car, when it arrives, has headlights lit in the gloom. A storm at the end of the Act further accentuates the gloom. Elsewhere in the opera the lighting fails to show off the excellent scenery, and the faces are rarely front-lit to help one appreciate facial expressions; with such cheerful music surely the atmosphere should try to be complementary. The costumes are modern; Bluebeard has a Kim Jong-Un haircut and heavily stylized beard. Some of the audience may find his appearance over-fanciful.

The DVD comes with a brilliantly informative featurette in English by stage director Barrie Kosky and members of the cast. We learn about the composer, his beginnings, the history of the Can-can, and Offenbach’s choice of subject matter. In the interesting interviews, the cast analyse Offenbach’s technique of writing for the voice, and there are clips of stage performances of some of his other operettas. Felicity Lott contributes her opinion of the score.

Raymond J Walker

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