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Barkouf by Jacques Offenbach – paw energy at Zurich Opera – Seen and Heard Worldwide


Switzerland Offenbach, Barkouf: Soloists, Refrain of Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich / Jérémie Rohrer (conductor). Zurich Opera, 23.10.2022. (MF)

Marcel Beekman (Bababeck), Brenda Rae (Maïma) and Rachael Wilson (Balkis) © Monika Rittershaus

Manufacturing:
Director – Max Hopp
Set – Marie Caroline Rössle
Costumes – Ursula Kudrna and Sebastian Helminger
Lighting – Franck Evin
Refrain director – Ernst Raffelsberger
Choreography – Martina Borroni
Dramaturgy – Kathrin Brunner

Solid:
Bababeck – Marcel Beekman
Le Grand-Mogul – Andreas Hörl
Saëb – Mingjie Lei
Kaliboul – Daniel Norman
Xaïloum – Sunnyboy Dladla (changed Andrew Owens)
Maïma – Brenda Rae
Balkis – Rachael Wilson
Périzade – Siena Licht Miller
Narrator – André Jung

Barkouf! Due to the title’s onomatopoeia it takes little creativeness to listen to the canine protagonist’s barks, growls and, effectively, ‘woufs’ however it additionally consists of this three-act opera’s characterisation as ‘bouffe’. And there’s extra. Jacques Offenbach’s opus, primarily based on Eugène Scribe’s libretto, takes us to the far-off city of Lahore the place Barkouf the canine is enthroned as ruler.

The Zurich premiere is just Barkouf’s third ever rendering. It made its debut in 1860 on the Paris Opéra Comique, the place it was censured and locked away after solely a handful of performances, deemed too essential of Napoleon III’s Second Empire.

Whereas the rating does embody the odd harmonious and light-footed three-quarter time sing-along tunes, as we all know them from La Belle Hélène, for instance (composed 4 years later than Barkouf), the music bears additional witness to each Offenbach’s talent and genius. His virtuosity and inimitable type are there, his inexhaustible melodic innovations, style for parody and demanding derision and the full of life vitality of waltz and polka rhythms. The orchestra additionally ventures into dissonances, orientalism within the instrumentation and even polytonality, just about unprecedented – and most undoubtedly sudden – on the time. Certainly, politics little doubt performed an vital half in consigning the piece to oblivion, however of an equally damning impact was Hector Berlioz’s verdict, who within the Journal des Débats rhetorically questioned whether or not the composer had ‘misplaced his thoughts’. It took one other century and a half till the Opéra nationwide du Rhin in Strasbourg unearthed the piece in 2018 for a manufacturing additionally proven in Cologne a 12 months later.

The Nice Mogul of Lahore, the ‘ruler of all rulers, star of all stars’ appoints Barkouf, the canine, as the pinnacle of presidency to humiliate his rebellious folks. Unsurprisingly the Nice Mogul’s plan backfires. Slightly than triggering humiliation, Barkouf is cherished by the folks, he’s celebrated as the very best ruler they ever had. The canine’s success is just not of its making alone, after all. His barked rulings are proclaimed by the flower lady Maïma, Barkouf’s former proprietor turned official translator. Taxes are halved for the poor and insurgents condemned to loss of life by the tyrant are acquitted. Alongside all this, a fortunately ending love story unfolds too, Maïma will get to tie the knot along with her Saëb by the top of the night.

Director Max Hopp and Marie Caroline Rössle (stage) along with Ursula Kudrna and Sebastian Helminger (costumes) ship in full on Hopp’s promise to current the viewers with a ‘fats piece of cream gateau’. Accordingly, the costumes cowl a broad vary from mild pastel oriental robes to over-the-top uniforms worthy of any Roman centurio awaiting defeat by Asterix. The stage is dominated by a M. C. Escher revolving spiral staircase of gigantic proportions – on, round and underneath which the motion is about. Being confronted with the complete forged plus the generously staffed refrain in corpore on the construction conveys an nearly overly wealthy feeling of saturation.

Zurich Opera’s Barkouf © Monika Rittershaus

Hopp’s directing calls for fairly some appearing from the forged. No surprise, since in his earlier life as an actor Hopp was no stranger to heavy obligation performing himself. He has labored for Frank Castorf in Zurich and in 2019 he impersonated a dozen or so roles concurrently as John Styx in Barrie Kosky’s Orphée aux enfers in Salzburg. That maybe spurred Hopp to writer narration changing the unique (and partly misplaced) dialogues. The actor Andre Jung stories, recapitulates, feedback and explains the plot because the night unfolds, every so often dissolving the boundaries between theatre and actuality when instantly addressing and being addressed by the singers with precise names. Admittedly, these spoken elements did add size. And Jung didn’t seem solely comfy along with his textual content.

The forged – Offenbach requires a minimum of 4 tenors – was a little bit of a combined bag on premiere evening. Given the opera’s hitherto apocryphal life, it was a night of position debuts. Marcel Beekman (Bababeck, a important conspirator) appeared considerably dragged down by his heavy plateau sneakers however introduced moments of playful pleasure nonetheless. Mingjie Lei as Saëb and Daniel Norman as Kaliboul had been reliably comedian. Xaïloum was sung by Sunnyboy Dladla (member of the 2019 Köln forged and changing Andrew Owens, who was indisposed, at very quick discover). Though he wanted a while to adapt to the orchestra, by the top he delivered a full-throated and fascinating efficiency.

The three feminine roles made for absolute highlights. Brenda Rae as Maïma and Rachael Wilson as Balkis had been merely splendid. Rae, a seasoned Queen of the Evening and Zerbinetta, is a strong, agile and charming coloratura soprano who visibly loved the appearing. Wilson’s mezzo voice has an enchanting mixture of roughness and enthralling delicacy. Siena Licht Miller’s Périzade was versatile and light-weight.

Choreographer Martina Borroni is given loads of room to underscore Barkouf’s revue aspect. Her ensemble of eight dancers offers entertaining interludes and makes stunning appearances as a Can-Can troupe, clad in Rio carnival gear – and reworked right into a pack of canines (which reminds us: we by no means really get to see the eponymous protagonist).

Lastly, director Jérémie Rohrer takes cost of the night’s musical drive. The founding father of the interval devices orchestra Le Cercle de l’Harmonie leads the excellently disposed Philharmonia Zurich and the well-balanced refrain. Collectively they navigate the complicated and various rating, aptly modulating between finely swinging operetta waltzes, bel canto melodiousness and grand opera in full blast with all voices on deck.

The premiere curtain calls had been met with avid applause all through. Additional performances will probably be on 27 and 30 October, 4, 6, 9, 13, 17, 19 and 22 November.

Michael Fischer

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