What better way to spend the free night between performances #1 and #2 of Das Lied von der Erde than with a ridiculous French operetta? Hey, if it's good enough for Sir Simon Rattle (who's been conducting both) then it's good enough for me. Besides which, I am a Magdalena Kozena groupie, and it would have been churlish to miss her while we were all in the same city. So it was off to the Staatsoper on another cold Berlin night. And not to Unter den Linden – that venue's currently undergoing major renovations – but to the Schiller Theater in Charlottenburg, the Staatsoper's pleasant (if slightly spartan) temporary home.
I'm always pleased to see Magdalena, and L'étoile, if you'll pardon the pun, is certainly a nice star vehicle for a mezzo: Lazuli (the pants role) gets more arias than a Handel hero. Seriously. S/he also gets the final bow – but I think it's safe to say that (again, pardon the pun) the evening's biggest star was the desperately funny Jean-Paul Fouchécourt as King Ouf, exploiting his diminutive stature (I never realised he was so little!) to his advantage with dead-on comic timing.
And for me, the other (triple pun warning) star of L'etoile was Stella. Doufexis, that is. I've known the name from CD covers for a while now, and somehow had got it into my head that she was 1. French and 2. a soprano. Turns out she's 1. German-Greek, 2. a mezzo and 3. wonderful. It was a shame that her character (Aloès) had comparatively little solo singing. Here she is with some Offenbach. If you're at all familiar with my vocal predilections, it probably won't surprise you that she was my favourite.
I can't say I was massively taken with the opera itself. It had its moments of charming French eccentricity, and also moments of proper comedy, but somehow was never quite as kooky or as funny as the set-up (loopy king, confused lovers, comedy Frenchmen and everyone in disguise) suggested it might be. And just as you thought it was about to take madcap flight, Chabrier chose instead to slow everything down, with interminable ensembles which lost momentum about halfway through. Dale Duesing's 1950s hotel setting (with the odd inexplicably anachronistic costume) was very appealing, though, and I am a bit of a sucker for comic opera with choreography. Not sure why the men's chorus broke into a quasi-haka at one point though.
The other highlight for me? The program. I don't often buy programs, I'm afraid, but I was informed that the Staatsoper's were something special. And so they are. They're little hardcover books, nicely bound and beautifully presented: the sort of thing I suspect Frindley would love. Evidently they're famous, so maybe you've all seen them before, but nevertheless here's a not-very-good photo of my program for L'étoile.
Pretty, isn't it? And half the price, I might add, of Opera Australia's rather less gorgeous publications. It's full of essays (auf Deutsch) which I shall probably never read, but it really is a lovely keepsake.
L'etoile may not be my new favourite opera but I was happy just to experience the (albeit transplanted) Staatsoper for the first time – not to mention a pretty nifty cast and the sheer thrill of novelty. And now I have a new mezzo to love, which can only be a Very Good Thing.