Opera

'L'Etoile': Zaniness on a High Note

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By Cecelia Porter
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

If you put together a preposterous plot, hopelessly scatterbrained characters and never-ending stage antics, you end up with Emmanuel Chabrier's comic opera "L'Etoile" (The Star). Two hours with the Wolf Trap Opera Company's version of the work offered a supremely entertaining way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Superbly conducted by Brian Garman, the troupe's production was a perfect fit acoustically and stage-wise for the cozy Wolf Trap Barns. I could detect virtually no weak spots in the exuberant performance, which was played to a full house. Abundant thunder rolls outside added to the amusing boisterousness of the production.

The story line of this zany opera bouffe is purely French in its wit -- played out in chattering dialogue, impossible intrigues, mock mystery and double identities. It is comic opera with a mishmash of utter confusion satirizing opera itself but lacking the acidic punch of Italian spoofs or the social message underlying Gilbert and Sullivan's creations, which were contemporary to Chabrier's.

The staging resorted to every trick of the trade and more, as in the continual moving about in mini-scenes crowded with characters mounting ladders or flip-flopping even during purely instrumental episodes. All this action cleverly served to maximize Chabrier's musical score in its nonstop switching from solo arias to duets, trios, quartets, choruses and back again. While only one set -- reflected in a gigantic overhead mirror exaggerating the images on stage -- served all three acts, the scene was imaginatively varied by ever-changing props suggesting a busy brothel, a theatrical setting or a circus, and by the barrage of strobe lighting in imaginative fireworks displays. The overall sense of muddled conglomeration was sharpened even more by continually changing period costumes (copying late-19th-century styles) in lavish colors and fancy embellishments.

With the help of a polished orchestra, all the leads and supporting roles were vocally beautiful and confidently acted with comic flourishes. In a pants role as the impoverished peddler Lazuli, Kate Lindsey sang with agility from a crystalline coloratura down to a resonant mezzo and back again, all the while cavorting up and down ladders and even swinging on a trapeze. Jeremy Little was fine as the ridiculously naive King Ouf, sung with deep resonance and elan. Erin Morley (Laoula) and Sasha Cooke (Aloes) interacted with convincing merriment and lovely voices.

Repeats are scheduled for Friday and Sunday. For more information visit http://www.wolftrap.org.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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