Even if my life depended on it, I’m not sure I could explain the plot of L’Etoile, an opera-bouffe by the minor but genuinely talented Emmanuel Chabrier, best known for his orchestral showpieces Espana and Joyeuse Marche.
The Royal Opera stages his 1877 operetta for the first time in this production by Mariame Clement – who gave Glyndebourne a highly successful Don Pasquale in 2011, following up in 2015 with a respectable Poliuto.
The piece’s weakness is the lack of an ongoing narrative thread leading the audience through its seemingly endless sequence of more or less comic situations.
Even the addition of actors Chris Addison and Jean-Luc Vincent in the newly written spoken parts of Smith and Dupont scarcely makes anything clearer, deftly though both of them deliver their routines based on somewhat tired old French and English stereotypes. They are still among the evening’s better features.
What makes L’Etoile just about worth doing is the music. Chabrier may have been a minor master, but he was a master all the same, and the technical skills exhibited in this lightweight piece are a cut above most scores of its kind; on the other hand, not many numbers really stick in the memory. Mark Elder conducts a neat and tidy performance but one that could do with more sheer esprit.
Julia Hansen’s comic-oriental designs are fun. Everyone in the cast, both principals and chorus, works diligently to try to achieve lift-off, but the show’s energy runs out well before the second-act finale.
The one performance with authentic star quality is that of American mezzo Kate Lindsey; she gives the young male pedlar Lazuli plenty of sex appeal, and sings with easy and mesmerising charm. But it still feels like a long evening.