The Star, L’Etoile at the IU Opera Theater is a delightful confection of a comedy. Emanuel Chabrier’s charming music ranges from rambunctious to lyrical. You might think of Offenbach, but with a bit more sophistication. There is plenty of musical and theatrical depth in the cast. Conductor Marzio Conti led the show with energetic attention to the orchestra and the singers. The super titled singing is in French, and the humorous dialog is in very clear English.
Conti is a veteran of comedy at IU. In the recent past he led a delightful production of Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment. By the way Saturday night’s cast included three singers who were with him for the droll Donizetti and there were three others with recent groundings in the comedies of Chabrier’s English contemporaries Gilbert and Sullivan. Stage director Alain Gauthier is also a veteran of the comic style. He made good use of this his second creative opportunity to work with L’Etoile.
As the curtain went up Saturday on what looked like a 19th century railway station, city workers were nervously hiding behind their newspapers. It’s their King Ouf’s habit to impale a person who speaks ill of him or his government on his birthday. Tomorrow’s the day and no one wants to be the unlucky one. After failing to elicit even mild criticism the king departs and his subjects breathing sighs of relief depart as well
A quartet of nicely dressed, suitcase bearing singers arrives. They’re disguised as shop assistants on a secret diplomatic mission to bring their Princess Laoula to wed King Ouf. There are a number of mysterious quirks in the twisted plot of L’Etoile and just why the ambassador chooses to have the princess pretend to be his wife while his own wife is partnered with his assistant is never quite clear, but like lots of other elements it does add to the fun.
Lazuli, a young traveling salesman of ladies sundries in a trouser role arrives. He falls in love with the princess and is distraught at the news that she is apparently married to the diplomat. The king, still in search of a birthday victim tempts the salesman to insult and even strike him and the relieved townspeople gather for a celebratory impalement. All is going along nicely until Siroco the king’s astrologer comes in with the news that the king’s and Lazuli’s stars,…l’etoiles… are so paired that if one dies the other will die the next day. Naturally things come to a dramatic close with the king making every effort to see that the salesman is safely and comfortably ensconced in his own palace.
In a series of often comic scenes a relieved king discovers that his star is quite independent of the salesman’s. Lazuli and Princess Laoula are united and everyone dances and sings a colorful finale.
Tim McMath’s single set uses a myriad combination of lights and lighting to be dark and mysterious and bright and cheerful. Linda Pisano’s costumes have a bit of the factory about them for the townspeople with the ambassador’s party in dignified black and the royal court awash is soft fabrics, shiny surfaces and pastels.
Saturday night’s cast sang and moved very well. Nathan Krishnaswami was the flamboyant King Ouf with Quinn Galyan as his dour astrologer. Darian Clonts led the ambassadorial party with Esther Schneider as Princess Laoula, Ashlyn Brown as his wife Aloes and Jeremy Weiss as Tapioca. Courtney Jameson wore the pants as the salesman Lazuli. Six members of the chorus, Melissa Hartman, Elise Hurwitz, Amane Machida, Jennie Moser, Maya Vansuch, and Emily Warren formed a surprisingly graceful and accomplished corps de ballet around the throne.
The IU Opera Theater’s production of Emanuel Chabrier’s L’Etoile continues with performances Friday and Saturday, October 20 and 21.
Here are a couple of notes: One, Don’t let the scary posters fool you. This is definitely a comedy and quite on the cheery side. Two, The show runs two hours with a twenty minute intermission featuring ice cream. The six elementary age children that I talked with during the intermission all spoke positively about the show. On the basis of their approval and the audience’s laughter and warm applause this might be a good first opera for young and perhaps old as well
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At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker.