Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Some forgotten opera scores may be best left

A PET parrot has died and the distraught girls of Saint-Rémy convent school gather to listen to the oration at his funeral, weeping and wailing.

When you read this opening line of Vert-Vert’s synopsis the mind goes into overdrive... French, parrots, opera... Didn’t Flaubert write something about parrots? This little-known 1869 operetta must be some way out, psychedelic, drug-inspired, surrealist kind of work with weird and wonderful overtones, a trendsetter for its time.

Alas, it is nothing of the sort. A silly premise just gets sillier and sillier, with pupils and teachers devising cunning schemes to meet the men they secretly married (why they have to keep their marriages secret is never explained) and Valentin, the school sweetheart, is exalted by the girls to the dizzy ranks of parrot replacement figure. This production, sung in English, is the UK premiere of a work that has languished on a dusty shelf in some archive for decades. You wonder if it had been better for all concerned had it stayed there.

Garsington Opera is a truly admirable institution. The romantic setting in the Wormsley estate, the stunning new auditorium and the production values and singing are all of the highest quality: a summery open-air version of Covent Garden.

You also have to take your hat off to the artistic directors for staging the unusual and the unknown, rather than taking the easy option of belting out the same old classics year after year. They are prepared to take risks, and while most of the time the risks pay off, sometimes unfortunately they backfire.

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