There was humming and toe-tapping aplenty at Friday night’s performance of La Vie Parisienne in the beautiful Moores Opera House at the University of Houston. You would be hard pressed to find a performance with more jollity and fun. This piece is a great vehicle for the opera program at the Moores School of Music because it has a big ensemble cast with many distinct characters.
For this operetta composer Jacques Offenbach wrote music that is lively, energetic, and makes your body move. It is essentially French party music with whipped cream and a beautiful melody on top.
La Vie Parisienne pokes gentle fun at the tourists who come to Paris for thrills and adventure. In the end the Parisians, who are more sophisticated and worldly wise, sort out any hard feelings.
The able, experienced, and exuberant direction of Buck Ross was in full force. Every extra laugh was elicited and each character had their persona to play – even in the chorus. Mr. Ross also designed the clever projections that appeared in several acts to add another dimension of visual description and a dash of extra humor.
The stage sets were vibrantly colored and influenced by the styles of various artists who at one time or another were newcomers to Paris: the Dutchman Piet Mondrian who painted primary colored blocks outlined in black, American Alexander Calder who made whimsical mobiles like the huge one in Act II, and Spaniard Joan Miró who painted abstracts with recurring odd shapes (like those on the mobile).
The excellent Moores School Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Stephen Sulich played at a brisk clip and kept the action going.
Standout performers included Sean Brabant and Zach Averyt as Bobinet and Gardefeu who drive the plot as the two Parisians who scheme and manipulate the clueless tourist couple from Sweden. The saucy Metella was played by Abigail Levis with a nimble soprano voice and a knowing attitude. James Rodriguez sang the Swedish Baron with an authoritative and rich baritone. Loretta Seabolt (Gabrielle the glover) and Casey Finnigan (Frick the bootmaker) shared a charming and very funny duet about the relative merits of hand and foot attire. Eamon Pereyra’s portrayal of the rich Brazilian was hilarious. The most poignant moment came in Act IV when Rebecca Heath, as the Swedish Baroness, sang a beautiful, bittersweet aria accompanied only by onstage pianist Hal Lanier. It’s the rare serious moment in this romp.
La Vie Parisienne continues on Sunday, October 24 at 2:00 pm and Monday, October 25 at 7:30 pm with alternating casts for the leading roles.On October 25, 2010 I changed the photos to the new ones I received from Buck Ross at the Moores School of Music