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Fantasio - OAE, Opera Rara, Elder: Classical review

Royal Festival Hall, London

Opera Rara were co-presenters of this Offenbach opera comique, and it really is a rarity: not since its first production in 1872 has it been performed in the original version we got here.

Written during the dark days of the Franco-Prussian war, it was conceived as a souflee to raise people’s spirits, and although there are occasional flashes of the magic which made Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann a perennial favourite, this work has no full-on magic of its own. Indeed, although Gilbert and Sullivan were to draw inspiration from such Parisian divertissements, a lot of it comes over simply as G&S avant la lettre.

But with Marl Elder at the helm of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Opera Rara chorus, and with Sarah Connolly leading a first-rate line-up of soloists, it got a brilliant re-launch. Connolly was not called on to deploy her sulphurous dramatic power – her job was simply to look handsome en travesti as the disguised hero – but her nuanced singing was gracefully offset by the tumbling coloratura of Brenda Rae as the princess she had to woo. Meanwhile, revealing an unexpected talent, Elder did a nicely comic cameo from the rostrum as an apoplectic Parisian tailor.