Review: Raoul Barbe Bleue

A co-production between Versailles Baroque Musique Centre and the Baroque Early Music Festival in Trondheim, of Andre Gretry’s/Sedaine opera-comique setting of Perrault’s telling of the Bluebeard fairy tale.

Charming entertainment unconstrained by painstaking reconstruction, employing modern-day cultural references to give a moralistic tale a present-day context.

For the curious, it threw light on an otherwise unfamiliar composer. For the newcomer, in particular, it provided a signpost for further exploration of a period in art that goes unmentioned in most conventional music histories.

Throughout Raoul Barbe Bleue, Gretry’s writing is rooted in instantly likable melody, underpinned by a vaguely familiar Mozartian style. Unsurprising perhaps: Mozart listened to many of Gretry’s works during the European tour his father mounted for him.  That a lot of Gretry’s work pre-dates Mozart means the French composer demands more recognition than perhaps he’s hitherto received.

So as a musicological anomaly, this staging of a relatively unknown Gretry opera was an appealing proposition.

The production wasn’t entirely without its flaws. Some disconnection between orchestra and voices was evident in the faster sections of the opening act, though the ensemble between the two leads tightened up at the beginning of the second. This was when the energy ramped up a little more, especially in the duets between Madame Isaure’s lover Vergi at Bluebeard’s castle disguised in bright red Mary Poppins-esque garb complete with high-heel boots and brolly. Rapport was solid and precision clearer. Chantal Santon-Jeffery conveyed moments of tenderness with a warm rich voice and a commanding presence on stage.

 

 

Some initially jarring elements of direction became less of an issue once I became more accustomed to them. The two comedy knights who walked stiffly in plastic armor with a whiff of Monty Python’s Holy Grail about them seemed like an ambitious piece of direction which didn’t quite succeed in execution initially. But, within the context of the production, there was a lovable quality to their interactions with one another that created lasting endearing characters.

This like one or two technical issues with lighting spots and set moves during the second and third act were initially disappointing, but importantly posed inevitable questions that mirror present-day expectations.

Should we expect a work which probably wasn’t originally staged with high production values to be performed with high production values today? Do the works of light opera necessarily need big budgets and high expectations to deliver the spirit of the original intent? Are moments when things are a little rough around the edges all part of the spirit of the piece even if they’re not intended?

Paramount is the delivery of the message. Similarly, attention needs to be maintained and punters entertained.

This production remained true to the show’s roots, playing to the intimate interior of Trondheim Theatre’s strengths. Raoul Barbe Bleue delivered on entertainment too.

 

Matthieu Lecroart gave us a tragic and momentarily forgivable Raoul with a hunch back, long pointy nose and terrifying stare. And whilst Chantal Santon-Jeffery as Isaure and Francois Rougier as Vergi led the company with conviction, the powerhouse performance undoubtedly came from Manuel Nunez-Camelino who’s energy in movement and dialogue was impressive. Also included, a spot of old-fashioned vaudeville magic.

Special note to the second and third act set design – Alice in Wonderland with lopsided doorways and a delightfully over-sized key – and to Raoul and his henchmen’s costumes and make-up. An enjoyable performance that helped introduce an unfamiliar composer and his canon.

Pictures: Leikny Havik Skjærseth

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