Royal College of Music Press Release
12 December, 2018
“The Offenbach bi-centenary is being virtually ignored by opera companies in the United Kingdom, so all credit to the Royal College of Music Opera Studio which is a mounting a new production of his Robinson Crusoe at the Britten Theatre in March 2019.” That’s how the official press release announces the happy event.
Daniel Defoe’s shipwrecked hero and his Man Friday seem to have made their first appearance on the musical stage as the subject of a pantomime in 1781, written by Sheridan, but the best-known, even if rarely staged, is Cremieux and Cormon’s version of 1867, set to music by Offenbach.
In spite of being a 32-performance failure at Paris’ Salle Favart, it was subsequently played in New York (1875) and, in a much altered version, as Robinsonade in Leipzig (1930). It reached London in 1973 in a production at that year’s Camden Festival and in 1983 was toured by the long-lamented superb Kent Opera – a company that was so good, its Arts Council subsidy was suddenly withdrawn!
Offenbach’s light-hearted story is loosely based on Daniel Defoe’s classic novel which celebrates its 300th anniversary in 2019, and is a sea-faring adventure set against a backdrop of colonialism and cannibalism. It follows the fate of hopeless romantic Robinson, who sets sail for South America with dreams of finding a fortune for his fiancée Edwige. It’s anything but plain sailing for our hero, however, who ends up shipwrecked on a desert island. And when Edwige launches a rescue mission, she too finds herself at the mercy of pantomime pirates and waltzing cannibals.
The opera-comique is sung in the English version of Don White, is directed by Bill Bankes-Jones and conducted by Michael Rosewell.
A complete recording is available using Don White’s translation on the Opera Rara label; the singers include Marilyn Hill-Smith, Enid Hartle and John Brecknock, amongst others, many of whom appeared in Kent Opera’s production, and who seem to have the ‘Offenbach’ style cultivated by Sadler’s Wells Opera on the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Tickets (£10-£50) for the RCM performances will be available from 30 January online.
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