Out of the Shadows

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Palazzetto Bru Zane's new edition of Offenbach's La Vie parisienne enables us to discover the composer's original intentions for the first time

Offenbach: La Vie parisienne (Photo Vincent Pontet)
Offenbach: La Vie parisienne (Photo Vincent Pontet)

When Offenbach's La Vie parisienne premiered in 1866 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris, librettist Ludovic Halévy would write "The rehearsals of La Vie parisienne are driving me almost insane". 

This extremely fraught rehearsal period led to significant changes to the planned opera with much material being jettisoned. Now Offenbach's rehearsal periods were always extremely dynamic, he tended two write too much material and then shape/cut it accordingly. But in this case material was dropped because the cast were better actors than singers. Against all the odds, the result was a success and people rather forgot that La Vie parisienne was intended to be a larger-scale work.

Luckily, the survival of a group of rare sources has enabled the reconstruction of Offenbach's putative original version, and this includes 16 numbers which are either new or in a modified version. We now have a full five-act version of the opera to experience. Of course, recreating lost original versions of Offenbach operas is a fraught process. As Offenbach died during the creation of Les contes d'Hoffmann, he did not have chance to perform a final editing so the work would be of Wagnerian length if all the surviving material were performed. There is a similar danger with La Vie parisienne, would all these new numbers have made the final cut even if the cast had been up to snuff? We'll never know.

But there is now a chance for us to discover for ourselves as the Palazzetto Bru Zane has partnered with opera companies in Rouen, Tours and Paris to present a new production of the original 1866 version. The production, directed by Romain Dumas, is currently at Opéra de Rouen Normandie, then at Opéra de Tours, and finally at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, in Paris (from 21 December 2021).

Further information from the Palazetto Bru Zane website, and full production details on Operabase.

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