Opera Comique Makes First Trip to U.S.
Dec. 05, 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Opera Comique is making the first U.S. appearance in its 289 years with a bit of frou-frou from Paris in the time of Emperor Napoleon III. It's Jacques Offenbach's hit of 1866: ``La Vie Parisienne,'' an ancestor of the 21st century musical.
The expression ``frou-frou'' may have originated from a song in the operetta's third act, ``Sa robe fait frou-frou-frou'' (Her dress says frou-frou-frou), which celebrates a young woman in a frilly gown. The language is French with English subtitles.
Seven performances are scheduled in February during a ``Festival of France'' at the Kennedy Center.
The festival starts Jan. 8 with a program of French jazz. A week later the National Symphony Orchestra will do a concert performance of ``The Child and the Magic Spells,'' a two-scene opera by Maurice Ravel, text by Colette _ the author of ``Gigi.'' There will be eight more symphony concerts in January featuring French music. The festival continues into April with a series of jazz, theater and dance groups.
``La Vie Parisienne'' (Life in Paris) is about a young man pursuing the affections of a courtesan through a villa belonging to his absent aunt. A dynamic cast of characters features a Swedish baron with an unexpectedly returned aunt in his bedroom, a Brazilian eager to spend his fortune on the pleasures of Paris, a servant disguised as an admiral from landlocked Switzerland and _ of course _ a troupe that does the cancan.
Offenbach's musical background is rooted in Paris. His father took him from their native Germany when he was 14 to study music in Paris. For a time, he played the cello in the Opera Comique orchestra. He wrote his increasingly successful operettas mostly for other companies. The emperor ordered a command performance of one _ ``Orpheus in the Underworld''_ and named the composer to the Legion of Honor.
Offenbach, now best known for the opera ``Tales of Hoffmann,'' had less success in France after the 1860s. He traveled to the United States in 1876 to recoup some, playing 40 concerts in New York and Philadelphia. He also conducted ``La Vie Parisienne,'' and another of his operettas.
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