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Friday, February 18, 2011

Offenbach's Ritter Blaubart at Oper Dortmund (Click this title for link!)

Hi Everyone!

I am back writing about an Opera that I saw recently: no surprise, I am sure!  However, this particular opera was actually an 'Operetta' and, it was by one of my favorite composers, Offenbach.  I guess it's kind of uncommon for Offenbach to be categorized as 'favorite', but I really enjoy his compositional style.  It is never boring because there's always a catchy tune being sung or played, and there are undoubtedly tons of laughs with a witty and satirical libretto.  Offenbach was almost like the 'Educated' Musical Theater of yesteryear.

Anyway, back to the news about the show and how wonderful and funny it was.  I guess I just gave away my general opinion on whether or not I liked it, but I really do feel that it deserves more merit than just a couple of positive adjectives strung together.  First off, the sets were amazing.  I have to preface this with the fact the the Oper Dortmund has a very unique stage- it's actually a huge lazy susan--and for those of you who aren't familiar with that kitchen item of Mom's, then it's best possibly described as a Turntable (a.k.a.- a gigantic round disc that pivots on a central point).  Which, I must say, gives the Oper Dortmund really a lot of different possibilities for staging choices and set design.  And, in this particular production they used it to great acclaim.  They had a strip of grass (astroturf, actually) which was continuously running from left to right in the background of the first few scenes which didn't repeat itself because in this astroturf were 'mile markers' if you will, with town names on them and distances to the next town.  It was honestly very smartly used for comic effect when a few of the characters were supposedly traveling quite far in a horse and carriage (and therefore the mile markers told you just how far they actually 'traveled').

Secondly, the large issue with many of Offenbach's operettas is that there is not only very difficult and wordy musical numbers (think Gilbert and Sullivan but in French) but also quite hilarious (if delivered dryly enough) actual dialogue between said musical numbers.  Therefore, the Oper Dortmund (again, smartly!) translated the French dialogue into German modern-day translations of what the French was originally intended to mean, and was able to make a very very funny interplay between the characters in the style of Offenbach, but in German (which the audience enjoyed also a lot more than reading surtitles, thank you very much!).

Thirdly, the costumes were to die for!  Either their costumers read my previous blog posting about the costumes at Wicked in Oberhausen, or they are just comic geniuses on their own.  Either way, I have to go into detail about the costumes.  They were distinctly divided to symbolize the class of character as well as the location of character at any given time.  For example: the flowermaiden (Fleurette) and the cowmaiden (Boulotte) both were wearing very....Bavarian-looking (for lack of a better adjective---think checkered skirts and aprons and flowered low-cut peasant tops) garb, while their intended love (the shepherd) was wearing cowboy boots and a light blue and pink suit (closely resembling the cut and style of things that Elvis used to wear actually, lol).  Then, the royalty where dressed in hot pinks, neon yellows and fuscias (which all looked very royal actually since the style of the garments was very traditional- think Louis XVI era) and they had absolutely crazy wigs which were white but absolutely humongous.  Honestly, I am not quite sure how they balanced with those things on, but nonetheless, they looked marvelous.  Finally, the main character was dressed in a very well-tailored (in a modern way) shiny black with hints of dark neon blue overtones and a large black top hat and a black and gold cane (which later was actually a sword!).  All in all, the costumes added the zany to the show, and that really made it so enjoyable to watch and to understand the subtle hints that Offenbach's plot was portraying....the ridiculousness of royalty, the beauty of peasant life, etc.

Last but not least, it was all wonderfully acted and sung.  There was a point in the first act which I remember particularly well---it was a chorus of village women (who were all cowmaidens) who were all also hard-of-hearing (so they had actual ear horns for each chorus member to put to their ears when they couldn't hear something---hilarious!).  It was a memorable chorus, to say the least, and it also helped to give the audience the feel that this production was anything but serious (but that it addressed serious subjects in a light-hearted way).  Possibly the thing that I most enjoyed which brought the whole thing together for me was that each person on that stage last Thursday night really was enjoying being there and having fun singing and acting and dressing up and telling the story.  That was something which, could honestly be more often seen in Operas and which needs to be concentrated on in the years to come.

Therefore, I say: Bravo Opera Dortmund!

And to those of you who are interested in seeing this, its still running at the Oper Dortmund, or for my American Readers, check out this video preview clip of the show:

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