Santa Fe Opera produced it several times in the seventies, but this year’s staging was definitely not your grandmother’s version.
On Wednesday August 7, Santa Fe Opera presented an energetic, fun-loving production of Jacques Offenbach, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic HalÈvy’s The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein. First seen at the 1867 Universal Exposition in Paris, its singable tunes and military satire made it a big hit. Santa Fe Opera produced it in the seventies, but this year’s staging was definitely not your grandmother’s version. Director Lee Blakely’s colorful, energetic production took place at the Gerolstein Military Academy located somewhere in the US Midwest. He and Choreographer Peggy Hickey added gymnastics and cheerleading to the usual singing and dancing. There are plenty of cartwheels and even a new Offenbach can-can. Adrian Linford’s arched sets made a good background for the active staging while Jo van Schuppen’s costumes were wonderfully decorative and exquisitely detailed. Although the music was sung in the traditional French, the updated English dialogue was full of double entendres.
Susan Graham was the Grand Duchess, a role made famous by Paris’s best-loved singing actress of the 1860s, Hortense Schneider. The Duchess, who loved men in uniform, took a whirl with practically every male on the stage, but since she was a good woman at heart, she dropped them when told they had families. In the meantime, she flirted deliciously, sang in idiomatic French style and danced gracefully with an occasional high kick! Graham is a super-star mezzo-soprano in her prime and this role was perfectly suited to her vocal and histrionic abilities. Her impressive second act aria was the focal point of the evening.
Lyric tenor Paul Appleby, who sang with beautifully colored tones, was a warm hearted, if clueless, Fritz who only wanted to marry his girlfriend Wanda. Sung by radiant, clear-voiced Anya Matanovi?, Wanda is eventually united with Fritz at the end. Much of Gerolstein’s comedy was fomented by the demoted General Boum, sung by sonorous bass Keven Burdette, the amusing Baron Puck, interpreted by effervescent tenor Aaron Pegram, and Prince Paul, the lanky, reluctant bridegroom, sung by smoky-voiced baritone Jonathan Michie. Numerous apprentices excelled in small solo parts while others formed Susanne Sheston’s fine chorus. Emmanuel Villaume led the admirably precise orchestra in this well-paced rendition of Offenbach’s exhilarating music.
image_description=Susan Graham as the Grand Duchess [Photo by Ken Howard]
product_title=The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein at Santa Fe Opera
product_by=A review by Maria Nockin
product_id=Above: Susan Graham as the Grand Duchess [Photo by Ken Howard]