Operetta Research Center
2 April, 2021
The Berlin based “collective for contemporary operette*” which calls itself Tutti d*Amore presented their take on Offenbach’s 1857 one-acter Vent-du-soir ou l’horrible festin last year, just before Corona hit. (Read more about it here.) Because of the following closure of all theaters in Germany and worldwide they could not bring their production of Das gräuliche Festmahl to Leipzig or anywhere else. So, instead, they turned it into a radio play that will premiere on Easter Sunday.
The Offenbach piece, with a libretto by Philippe Gille, marked the first appearance with Offenbach of the singer-actor Désiré, who became of the star comedians of the French operetta world. He played the title roles in 1857: the king of the fantasy island Gros-Loulous inhabited by cannibals. He himself is one, too. Which leads to complications with Lapin-courageux, the king of the Papas-Toutous whose son has gone missing, presumably eaten by Vent-du-soir. That’s just one of many “horrible destinies” the title refers to.
To complicate matters further, Vent-du-soir’s daughter Atala is/was in love with that other king’s son Arthur. And, yes, there’s also the mute role of the cook, Pas-Peigné-du-Tout. He apparently prepared Arthur for the royal double dinner that’s to be served up for his father and ex-father in law.
At the end of the show everyone is – luckily – alive and un-cooked. But it’s one of those shows to which Kurt Gänzl’s definition of “original” 19th century operetta applies: “They were pieces that were written with a zany, Monty-Pythonesque type of burlesque humour, extravagantly – even ridiculously – funny. […] With music that was willing and eager to echo the crazy flavour of the story and fit the most madcap moments of the text.”
The madcap show was a huge success in Vienna where Johann Nestroy translated it into German as Häuptling Abendwind and played the title role himself. Till today it’s one of the few Offenbach translations by Nestroy that are easily available in print, e.g. in a Reclam edition.
When Tutti d*Amore presented their Gräuliches Festmahl on stage there was a small orchestra playing vigorously and very convinvingly. And the actors certainly knew how to perform operetta* (which an all-inclusive gender-star) in the most extravagant and ridiculous way imaginable. It was a joy to watch and hear. I remember thinking, back in 2020, that I’d love to have a recording of this well-sung performance.
And now, almost exactly a year later, there’s the radio version. You can listen to the broadcast on Easter Sunday (4 April) at 8 pm (German time) on Radio Corax, on 10 April at 5 pm on Sphere Radio, and on 11 April at 8 pm on Radio Blau.
Let’s hope a CD or regular download version will follow, so spread the word even further and remind the world at large of the Offenbach piece most will only know as a title and because of the cannibalistic plot.