Forbes on Film & Footlights
23 May, 2017
The Light Opera of New York (LOONY) shifted gears this spring from its annual early American operetta – usually by Victor Herbert or Jerome Kern – and mounted instead an altogether delightful production of that master of the French operette: Jacques Offenbach’s 1868 one-act L’ile de Tulipatan in a highly amusing and witty translation by Gregg Opelka (lyrics) and Jack Helbig (dialogue).
The zany plot, based on the original libretto by Henri Chivot and Alfred Duru, concerns the Duke of Tulipatan (Victor Khodadad) who disdains the gentle and feminine ways of his would-be successor son Alexis (Claire Kuttler). But little does the Duke know, that years before, his right-hand man, the Grand Marshall Romboidal (Chad Kranak), had contrived to let the Duke, at his wit’s end after having sired nothing but daughters and more daughters, believe his latest daughter was … a boy. Similarly, Romboïdal’s wife Théodorine (Heather Jones), in order to protect her son from one day being conscripted by the war-mad Duke, contrived, unbeknownst to Romboïdal, to bring him up as a girl named Hermosa (an exuberant Tom Mulder gamely cavorting in a short dress). Now, the distinctly unladylike girl is clearly showing a preference for ‘manly’ things, such as hunting, shooting, and martial drums. The situation naturally leads to all sorts of gender-bending misunderstandings.
Daringly, even when Alexis and Hermosa discover their own true gender identities, it seems to matter not a jot if the object of their affections is the same sex and their union a potential same-sex marriage. This greatly worries the parents who each only know half of the truth and are mortified at the idea of such a ‘homosexual’ union. Of course, all gets sorted out by the end.
Just as a reminder: the actual term ‘homosexual’ (as opposed to ‘heterosexual’ and ‘monosexual’) was not invented until 1869 by Karl Maria Kertbeny. You could say operetta was way ahead of its time in terms of representing non-normative behavior. (To read more about this, click here.)
The amusing plot brought out some of Offenbach’s most delicious music, and with Music Director Tyson Deaton at the keyboard, and excellent voices all around, the score, from the overture onward, sparkled. The concerted ‘duck couplets’ with its periodic “quack” sounds during the Duke’s entrance song (he disdains his bad press much like a certain resident of the Oval Office), a wacky Barcarolle (a far cry from the one in Hoffmann), and the father-daughter duet wherein Hermosa is totally nonplussed by the revelation of Alexis being a girl were particularly winning. (This latter duet is the first discussion – ever – of same-sex marriage on the musical stage, and Hermosa laughs off her father’s concerns with a triumphant yodeling, telling him she doesn’t care whether he partner is a man or a woman – Offenbach doesn’t get much better than he is here in this exuberant number.)
The cast members act as well as they sing, and have great fun with the farcical goings on. Mulder and Kuttler mined all the requisite laughs from their roles, and were especially appealing in the wooing scene where Hermosa teaches Alexis how to propose properly as a ‘man’ to a ‘woman.’ It ends up in a rather militant seduction scene, that turns all gender behavior of the era – and of today – upside down.
Khodadad and Kranak made a fine pair of bewildered fathers. Jones’ asides to the audience about her “secret” and her florid aria when she announces she’s leaving the room, were excellently done.
Director Gary Slavin, a master of this sort of material, brought out all the humor of the piece. And though there was plenty of slapstick, it didn’t interfere with the music.
The evening began with a short selection of seven rather predictable “Offenbach Favorites.” I must confess I’d have preferred rarities, and three of the numbers weren’t even from Offenbach’s vast catalogue of operettas, but The Tales of Hoffmann. Still, the cast performed them more than competently in French in a sort of salon setting, “hosted” by Kranak.
Khodadad gave us a well-sung “Au Mont Ida” from La Belle Helene, which incidentally made an interesting juxtaposition to last weekend’s production of the similarly themed The Golden Apple at Encores. Chelsea Bonagura joined nicely with Jones for Hoffmann’s “Barcarolle,” Katherine Cecelia Peck sang the familiar letter song from La Perichole, and John Collison crisply delivered the Viceroy’s “incognito” number.
The good news is that Albany Records has since recorded the Tulipatan part of the bill with an orchestra. It will be very nice to have this particular translation on record. This was the pattern last year, when Kern’s Sally was played in performance with piano accompaniment only, but with more instruments added for the CD. That recording, incidentally, is quite delightful, and represents the only modern recording of the work that gave us “Look for the Silver Lining” and other Kern gems.
Next up from LOONY is a potpourri evening entitled My Song Goes ‘Round the World, described as “a musical exploration of the composers and performers who defined operetta on both sides of the Atlantic in first half of the twentieth century.” The performance will take place on June 8th at the National Opera Center at 330 Seventh Avenue.
To read the original article, click here.