La Vie Parisienne, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London<br/>Fiesque/University College Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, London

A wonderful, welcome escape to fizzy, witty Offenbach
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The Independent Culture

Set in a Magritte landscape of puffy clouds and bowler-hatted factotums, Martin Lloyd-Evans's vivacious production of La Vie Parisienne at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offers a welcome soupçon of escapism to those battered by wind, rain and credit crunch. With the 1867 World Exhibition soon to open, Offenbach chose the subject for his tender farce with customary canniness; opening with a scene that sees Russians, Spaniards, Japanese, Bavarians, a Brazilian millionaire and, in this production, a sheik, a nun and a cartwheeling cowboy, tumble out of the train from Trouville in search of a mythical Paris. Born the son of a cantor in Cologne, the tiny composer had been there himself. He'd been the naïf with the incomprehensible accent, the chancer, the romantic, the dupe, the ambitious artisan, the celebrated performer, and, eventually, the wealthy foreigner who takes delight in throwing a grand party.

Dotted with patter songs, gallops, cancans and a couple of inevitable can't-can'ts, the production is a charmer. There is a lot of dialogue in La Vie Parisienne, much of it very witty in Lloyd-Evans's and conductor Clive Timms's translation. As the boulevardiers Bobinet and Gardefeu, Austrian baritone Lukas Kargl and Canadian tenor John Bacon adopt a Bertie Woosterish drawl. American mezzo Melanie Lang lends Métella a Marie Lloyd twang, while home-grown talents Benedict Nelson and Lisa Wilson (as the Baron and Baroness de Gondremarck) contend with the cooing diacritics of Swedish. Compared with this linguistic minefield, the china-shepherdess coloratura allotted to Gabrielle (Daire Halpin) in the Act III Tyrol-ienne seems like a stroll through the Tuileries. If Nelson and Halpin rightly steal the show, Wilson and Amar Muchhala (Frick/Prosper) come a close second. From Paul Haas-Curievici's moustachioed Station Master to Sarah Power's saucy Pauline, the supporting cast is scintillating, as is the orchestral performance. Sometimes champagne really is the best medicine.

Though Offenbach regularly fell foul of the Parisian censors, his career was blessed compared to that of Edouard Lalo, whose 1868 opera Fiesque was too sympathetic in its treatment of revolution to find favour in a city weary of radical politics. First staged in Mannheim 115 years after the composer's death, with Roberto Alagna in the title role, Fiesque received its UK premiere this week in Emma Rivlin's handsome production for University College Opera. Sung by David Curry, the dramatic Act II soliloquy "Le rêve de Fiesque" explained what drew Alagna to the role of the morally compromised hero. Yet the most complex and subtly written character is that of Verrina (Robert Davies), whose fervour for Genovese independence finally leads him to kill his friend.

Despite underwritten female roles and an oddly comic portrait of the assassin Hassan (Adam Green), Fiesque emerges as a strong piece with arrestingly abrupt act finales. Under Charles Peebles, the student orchestra and chorus caught the peculiar pungency of Lalo's Franco-Italian style, giving a committed performance in which Davies's dark bass-baritone had unmistakable authority.



'La Vie Parisienne' (020-7638 8891) to 17 March

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