Monday 12 October 2020

Glyndebourne's outdoor Offenbach comes indoors with a terrific ensemble cast

Offenbach: In the market for Love - Rupert Charlesworth, Nardus Williams, Matthew Rose, Brenden Gunnell, Michael Wallace - Glyndebourne (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Offenbach: In the market for Love - Rupert Charlesworth, Nardus Williams, Matthew Rose, Brenden Gunnell, Michael Wallace
Glyndebourne (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

Offenbach In the market for love; Kate Lindsey, Nardus Williams, Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, Matthew Rose, Brenden Gunnell, Rupert Charlesworth, Michael Wallace, Stephen Langridge, Ben Glassberg; Glyndebourne

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 October 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The sheer joy of performing; Offenbach's frothy market-set operetta is a first for Glyndebourne

Stephen Langridge's production of Offenbach's In the market for love (Mesdames de la Halle) at Glyndebourne this Summer was a quick thinking response to the lockdown. With a new English version by Stephen Plaice, the initial run of performances took place out of doors and were a direct response to the pandemic. Slightly re-cast, the production has now made its way indoors, still as topical as ever and still socially distanced. On Sunday 11 October 2020 we caught Stephen Langridge's production of Offenbach's In the market for love at Glyndebourne with Brenden Gunnell as Mademoiselle Bouillabaisse, Rupert Charlesworth as Madame Beurrefondu, Michael Wallace as Madame Mangetout, Matthew Rose as the police inspector, Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts as Raflafla, Kate Lindsey as Harry Coe and Nardus Williams as Ciboulette. Ben Glassberg conducted the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra.

Who performed what, and with what forces, was strictly controlled in 19th century Paris and until 1857, Offenbach and his  Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens were strictly limited in terms of the number of performers allowed. This changed in 1857, and to take advantage of the larger forces now available to him Offenbach wrote Mesdames de la Halle which has 12 named roles and a chorus. The libretto by the playwright Armand Lapointe seems to have been mining affection for the Marche des Innocents, and the piece is set within the market with a cast including nine different market sellers and Offenbach's opening chorus utilises versions of the old market sellers calls. The piece is probably the closest that Offenbach came to writing farce, and within the lively setting there is of course a love story.

One of the twists of the piece is that the three leading market sellers, here named Mademoiselle Bouillabaisse, Madame Beurrefondu and Madame Mangetout, are played by men and Brenden Gunnell, Rupert Charlesworth and Michael Wallace had great fun is the three very lively ladies, all of a certain age but still in the market for love when Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts' well-spoken but untrustworthy drum major Raflafla comes calling. In amongst this the young Ciboulette (Nardus Williams) is in love with Harry Coe (Kate Lindsey), a cook. They cannot marry till she gets permission, but she is an orphan, and of course her parents turn out to be Raflafla and Mademoiselle Bouillabaisse. Trying to keep order in the chaos is Matthew Rose' police inspector.

The original setting is the time of Louis XV, but Langridge moved it to the present day with little violence, and there were plenty of running gags about social distancing, masks and so forth, perhaps slightly too many but it made for lively fun and certainly the chorus (providing market sellers, police and soldiers) clearly were having great fun. Offenbach would write bigger operettas, but this one has some significant ensemble numbers, all imaginatively stage and clearly everyone was having the time of their life. This was a very physical production and the sheer inventiveness of the staging and the casts' willing response made for an engaging 70 minutes.

The piece is really a bit of froth, and all the more delightful for it, and no-one tried to make it more than it was. There were a number of dramatic voices in the cast, but all brought a nice lightness of touch and a sense of fun to Offenbach's music. Nardus Williams and Kate Lindsey charmed as the young lovers, both get delightful set pieces showing off Offenbach's gift for melody. Matthew Rose made a wonderfully po-faced police inspector who, when the performance was over, managed the audience's socially-distanced exit with great aplomb. But more than any particular individual performance this was an ensemble piece about the sheer joy of performing again. In the pit, Ben Glassberg drew a stylish performance from the 18-strong Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra.

Offenbach: In the market for Love - Kate Lindsey - Glyndebourne (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Offenbach: In the market for Love - Kate Lindsey - Glyndebourne (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

Amazingly, this was the first Offenbach opera to be performed at Glyndebourne, and I certainly hope that it is not the last, the house is just the right size for the operas.

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