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Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
L'étoile (1877), comic opera in 3 acts
Lazuli – Stephanie d'Oustrac (mezzo-soprano)
Le Roi Ouf I – Christophe Mortagne (tenor)
La Princesse Laoula – Hélène Guilmette (soprano)
Siroco – Jérôme Varnier (bass)
Hérisson de Porc-Épic – Elliot Madore (baritone)
Aloès – Julie Boulianne (mezzo-soprano)
Tapioca – François Piolino (tenor)
Patacha - François Soons (tenor)
Zalzal – Harry Teeuwen (baritone)
Le Maître – Jeroen van Glabbeek (bass)
Le Chef de la Police – Richard Prada (tenor)
Chorus of Dutch National Opera/Nicholas Jenkins
Residentie Orkest The Hague/Patrick Fournillier
Laurent Pelly (Stage Director), Chantal Thomas (set designer), Laurent Pelly & Jean-Jacques Delmotte (costume design)
rec. 2014, Dutch National opera and Ballet, Amsterdam
Booklet notes in English
NAXOS Blu-ray NBD0091V [115:00]

Chabrier’s delightful comic opera is staged or recorded unbelievably rarely. This disc deserves a resounding welcome merely for existing – silly maybe, but why does such a gem remain neglected? It is cause for champagne that the performance is so excellent. So, to the overture, which shows the obvious commitment and enjoyment of Patrick Fournillier and his marvellous orchestra. The players exchange occasional smiles, which suggests that they relish this music for its fun and wit. Fournillier, let me say straight away, is brilliant throughout. He fully characterises the varied moods and keeps a sharpness to the rhythms. The cast is of a high standard, both in terms of acting and singing, while orchestra and chorus are faultless.

The plot is intentionally ridiculous, surreal at times. The production captures all the inherent fun without unnecessary distraction, distortion or over-egging, and remains faithful to the original conception. The sets and costumes, slightly updated yet generally apt, all work very well.

The story begins with King Ouf I determined to keep his citizens happy with a public execution to celebrate his birthday. This is the feature of the celebrations to which they most look forward, so – to ensure they are not disappointed – he tries to provoke some normally law-abiding citizen into a subversive or anti-Ouf remark. Nobody obliges, so Ouf consults his personal astrologer, Siroco. Ouf has found a bizarre clause in his will. It states that Siroco must die a quarter of an hour after the King's own death. He orders Siroco to study the omens surrounding the King's proposed marriage to Princess Laoula, daughter of his neighbour, King Mataquin. By this marriage, Ouf hopes to bring peace to the two countries, and provide an heir to his throne. One nice detail of the costume is Ouf’s skinhead wig with a tiny crown perched on top. Let me pick out just two of the cast. Christophe Mortagne as Ouf is brilliant: hilarious acting and delightful vocal variety; even at the final curtain-calls he is still playing the fool. Stephanie d’Oustrac is superb in the trousers-role Lazuli, with totally convincing acting and vocal skills.

It would be wrong to imagine L'étoile as belonging to a sub-Offenbach category. Chabrier’s music has more sophistication, and even an emotional depth; one would not immediately associate that with the genre. In a word, it is more operatic. I encourage those who know Chabrier only for España to discover more of this marvellous composer’s music. The wonderfully characterful and varied Dix pièces pittoresques are well recorded but seldom played. The delightful Le Roi malgré lui is hardly ever staged (Grange Park Opera performed it sixteen years ago), the songs are similarly neglected. There is a very good selection of Chabrier’s music on Magdalen.

I could not give a higher recommendation to this disc. All concerned have combined their superlative musicianship and stagecraft to give this gem the exposure it so deserves.

Philip Borg-Wheeler



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