Boston Conservatory’s barrel-of-monkeys, LOL, pink-cotton-candy romp through Chabrier’s L’Etoile floated like a giggle of butterflies at the BoCo Theater over the weekend, but not without sensual stimulation and satirical sting. The 1877 Gilbert and Sullivanesque operetta sets a pleasantly flimsy libretto by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo quite inventively; highlights of the 90 minutes include a tickling trio of arousal, drunken duo-doings, and an ah-choo aria. Just when one begins to dismiss the compact three-act show as non-stop silliness, a couple of arias would reach emotionally for the lucky stars. While the lively and very stage-present cast sang in French, they dialoged in Jeremy Sams’s vernacular, updated English, and we even got an interpolation of “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific.
Publisher’s Synopsis: Crazy King (Ouf) is about to celebrate his 39th birthday the way he celebrates every year ― with a public execution. A peddler named Lazuli, in a bad mood because the woman he has just fallen for (Laoula) is otherwise (mock) betrothed, insults the King and is designated the sacrifice. But before the execution, King Ouf’s astrologer, Siroco, warns the King that he is to die within a day after Lazuli. So Lazuli is spared and honored, but he still wants to marry Laoula, and, after much confusion, King Ouf approves, and they wed.
Nathan Troup directed a very witty production which nodded to a variety of sources. The economical white flats, with Cristina Todesco’s art-nouveau-ish line drawings, which noticeably nodded to Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline, changed hues memorably in Jeff Adelberg’s constantly morphing colorations (absinthe green for the Chartreuse scene, of course). Thanks to LEDs’ millions of colors and automations this all worked; Boston Conservatory’s stage machinery is way beyond the lever-rheostat era. We also liked the shadows Adelberg produced through low-level lekos. If the color schema alluded to Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” the frantic blocking (five doors in the flats permitted manic comings and goings and comic exchanges) evoked Rene Clair’s zany chases in his early musical, “À Nous la Liberté.” One could feast scrumptiously on Chloe Moore’s exuberantly layered and luminously chromatic costumes.
Troup’s bouffe blocking did not merely trade in predictable pratfalls and jealous upstagings. His memorable slapstick also expanded the genre with some amuse bouches: arousal from sleep became a different sort of arousal in the well-spread long-legged trouser-role moment … the diva princess polished the floor before taking a dive into a 19th-century-melodrama swoon, witty suggestions of torturous spikes stimulated our sadistic streaks, rolling up sleeves before a reviving kiss, a mechanically human clock counted the hours until the King’s expected death… and so forth.
Throughout the 19 numbers (well-varied in permutations), the Sunday BoCo student cast showed themselves to be stage-loving players with well-developed individual personalities. And some of them could also sing at exalted levels. Halle Rosemond voiced Princess Laoula, with a plangent soprano; equally at home in poignant repose and lively comedy, she should patent her petulant pout. In the trouser role of the peddler Lazuli, Grace Heldridge drew a convincingly gamin figure. I’d like to see and hear her “Voi Che Sapete.” Unfortunately, she was unable to sing after the first act. Cover Chirbee Dy provided her voice for Acts II and II as the former mimed the role. Bass Austin Martin, the king’s astrologer, projected solid tones as he pondered his unwanted bequest from the King…over and over again. As comic King Ouf, Nicholas Alessi charmed with a wry annoyance.
The many ensembles and choruses worked well because conductor Andrew Bisantz never let the froth go flat. The Can-Can number could have gone on forever as a tribute to the gay Paris of Chabrier’s mentor Offenbach. If the string sound didn’t emerge from the pit to bloom in the dry, black-box acoustics, the orchestra did achieve more than satisfactory account of the sophisticated score. And this is no faint praise.
The sparkling production cavorted by blissfully, testifying to the healthy state of BoCo Opera.
Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer