Most forgotten operas are forgotten with good reason, but the Offenbach operetta which conductor David Parry has exhumed for Garsington is a delightful discovery.
Thanks to a talented group of young singer-actors under Martin Duncan’s G&S-style direction, its UK premiere has irresistible charm, with the music flowing like champagne and laughs coming thick and fast. Vert-Vert is an ex-parrot whose funeral opens the drama; this turns on a series of clandestine marriages plus sundry seductions.
It begins in a convent where the pupils are not the only characters on heat. The dashing young dragoons (Quirijn de Lang and Andrew Glover) who climb in over the wall to keep their assignations are complemented by a maturer pair (assistant headmistress Yvonne Howard and dancing master Geoffrey Dolton) whose furtive couplings provide constant comedy; Robert Murray’s mellifluous Valentin – persuaded to replace the parrot as singer-in-chief – gets the best songs and also the loveliest girl in the form of Mimi, sung with ineffable grace by Fflur Wyn.
The Second Empire frivolity of Francis O’Connor’s designs, which capitalise on the theatre’s leafy setting, is enhanced by some of the most brilliant movement-direction I have ever seen; Dolton’s exuberant song-and-dance virtuosity takes the breath away.Reuse content