Anita reviews La Vie Parisienne

Our Manchester performer Anita Ferguson shares her thoughts on the Royal Northern College of Music's La Vie Parisienne:

I was captivated by the beautiful, corseted coquettes, who strolled through the pre-show crowd, especially when I saw them dispensing shining red hearts in the form of lollipops. I'm not usually so easily won over but have always been a sucker for a lolly...  A good start!

La Vie Parisienne is a brilliantly convoluted tale of romance and intrique, of masquerade and mayhem. It  was written in the 1880s, but our story is set in the 1930s. The characters seek love and delightful diversions, against a backdrop of the decadence of the age. At this time, it was a wonderful escape from the Great Depression and the emerging dark political changes of the Europe. As W. H. Auden said: 'No opera plot can be  sensible'. He could certainly have been alluding to La Vie Parisienne.

Gardefeu and Bobinet search for a romantic adventure, for a beautiful girl - the richer the better. They pretend to be tour-guides and hoteliers, courting the hapless Lord and Lady Ellington, who are set on sampling the delights in Paris. Frick and Gabrielle, shoemaker and glovemaker, are invited to join the deception, as aristocrats. The consequences are hilarious.

The dialogue is sharp and witty. It is also perfectly enunciated by the cast. Even without subtitles, I followed every word and nuance in the intricate plot. This was a mammoth task for the post-grads and undergrads of the RNCM. They had to master the songs, which they certainly did with great skill, but  also deal with a lot of quick-fire dialogue, delivered with humour and great aplomb.

We careered though the plot. There was a point where I whispered to a friend: 'What does this remind me of? I know! It's Carry On Paris!' Indeed it was.

There were some standout performances - from  Margarita Wood as Gabrielle, MIchael Jones as Frick (who was also a great physical comic), Ranald McCusker as Gardefeu, and Neil Balfour as a charmingly naïve and nonchalant Ellington. The well-schooled chorus was tremendous. The vivacity of all the performances carried us along. The sweeping Offenbach score was faultlessly conducted by Manoj Kamps.

The set, designed by Simon Romaniuk, was wonderful, imaginative and inventive, especially in the Moulin Rouge setting and the finale. The  costumes, also by Romaniuk, were a riot of colour, a  sumptuous display of extravagance and decadence.

I began to wonder if there was perhaps more behind the frivolity and froth? I see in the background the themes of class distinction, snobbery, shallowness. This was not illuminated in this production.

Surely, a reminder of more serious aspects of life would serve to contrast with and so highlight the 'fizz'?The extravagance, hedonism and flimsy happiness of the characters are destined for a life devoid of meaning, even futility. The lower classes, while imitating their 'masters', poke fun at them. They hold all the cards. The likes of Lord Ellington appear  easily tricked buffoons. Gabrielle, the lowly glovemaker, becomes a key figure. When exposed, she is still respected and loved, turning the status-driven Paris society on its head.

The women wield all the power, from the nubile dancers who languorously stretch in front of the curtain at the start, the prostitutes who strut purposefully among the players, and the main characters. Matella searches for a man to depend on; she makes all the decisions, and uses her femininity to snare a man, having rejected our two young men at the start.  Gabrielle triumphs. She employs her beauty, charm and guile in order to do as she pleases. She gets her man. All the women are at ease with their sexuality and at times they run  proverbial rings around the men.

This production is full of high comedy and joy. It is a moral tale - people get what they deserve; the amoral among them repent in small ways and are granted a happy ending.

It was hard not to tap my feet, or indeed burst into spontaneous, mirthful  song when familiar numbers came along. I was glad to be  reminded of just how much work we'd done on La Vie Parisienne during the preceding term with Streetwise Opera. Sincere thanks to the RNCM for generously affording us, at  Streetwise Opera, comps for this fantastic production.

We ended with a glorious tableau, against a stunning projected backdrop of La Tour Eiffel, with the all the wonderful, colourful cast on stage - a spectacular sight. And so, at last, the can-can girls hot-footed across front stage, to the familiar Offenbach  music, the audience clapping in time.

It was a delightfully joyous, life-affirming ending. As we left, there was a buzz in the air. Everyone was animated, enlivened and smiling. Tres magnifique!