Daily Tip: La Belle Hélène at the Komische Oper


The Komische Oper is currently in the midst of an operetta festival that includes the premiere of Oscar Straus’ Eine Frau, die weiß, was sie will, as well as several of the company’s recent forays into the operetta genre. (For the extremely interested, there’s even an international conference about operetta called “The Art of the Superficial: Between Bravado and Banality” that runs until tomorrow.

Tonight’s performance (NOTE 6pm early curtain) is intendant Barrie Kosky’s wonderfully zany take on Offenbach’s “La Belle Hélène,” performed in German as “Die Schöne Helena.” Here’s what I wrote about the premiere back in November for Opera News.

Only an Offenbach purist (if there even is such a thing) could take issue with Kosky’s decision to maintain a constant intrusion of outside musical material, including Wagner, Gounod, Verdi and — why not? — “Hava Nagila.” For the rest of us, Kosky’s overloading of musical and cultural references just deepened the parody while honoring and updating the spirit (if not the letter) of Offenbach’s own mischievous project of desacralization. The musical hodgepodge was complemented visually by such incongruous elements as neon Baroque interiors, roller-skating Scottish soldiers (complete with flaming red hair and kilts) and a male dance troupe that wore derrière-exposing Lederhosen (one of costume designer Buki Shiff’s many memorable creations).

The obvious danger was that the entire conceit might collapse under the weight of its own ridiculousness. It was, however, a risk that Kosky, his team and the entire company surmounted brilliantly. The success of the enterprise depended on an absolute commitment to the absurdity. This brazen assurance extended from the principal cast, drawn from the house’s dynamic ensemble, to the shimmering and unified chorus to the alert and shape-shifting orchestra, led by the Komische’s GMD, Henrik Nánási, who responded nimbly to the cast’s frequent cues of “Hit it, Henrik.”  read more at Opera News…

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