I think my good luck run with Offenbach just ran out. I really didn’t enjoy the 1991 Opéra National de Lyon production of La Vie Parisienne. The productions of La Belle Helène and Orphée aux Enfers which I reviewed last week were very much performances by operatic forces letting their hair down; comparable, perhaps, to ENO doing Gilbert and Sullivan. The Lyon La Vie Parisienne seems to come out of an entirely different performing tradition. It feels like an older and more operetta focussed tradition. perhaps (very roughly) the French equivalent of D’Oyly Carte doing Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s not a performing tradition I’m familiar with and it’s possible that, in fact, this production was sending up that tradition. It’s very, very French. If you can imagine a Henri le Chat Noir video mixed with crazy patter songs, drunken choruses and terrible choreography apparently designed for the sole purpose of displaying underwear you’ll have some idea. There’s also a bit of Mr. Bean in Jean-Yves Chatelas’ Baron Gondemarck. The singing style is more akin to old fashioned musical comedy than opera and the thinness of the voices is not helped by the rather tinny sound quality of the DVD. Part of me wondered whether the style was a reaction to the work itself but a look at extracts of Laurent Pelly’s more recent production in Lyon suggests otherwise. In any event, it didn’t really work for me.
In so far as the idea of Alain Françon’s production is to show the emptiness of the mindless pursuit of pleasure it works quite well on its own terms but it’s less than thrilling entertainment. There are some good performances, notably Jean-Francois Sivadier’s Gardefeu and Claire Wauthion’s Baroness, and there are some good comic moments from the bootmaker/shoemaker double act of Alain Hocine and Isabelle Mazin. The orchestra under Jean-Yves Ossonce doesn’t seem as engaged as it might be. The video direction by Pierre Cavassilas is pretty average for 1990s TV.
The disk package is ultra-budget. The picture is TV to DVD quality 4:3 and the sound is rather thin Dolby 2.0. There are hard coded English sub-titles. There are no extras and documentation is minimal. One has to believe, even on the evidence of just a few minutes on Youtube, that Laurent Pelly’s more recent Lyon production is a much better bet.