Barkouf by Jacques Offenbach – paw energy at Zurich Opera – Seen and Heard Worldwide

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Offenbach, Barkouf: Soloists, Refrain of Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich / Jérémie Rohrer (conductor). Zurich Opera, 23.10.2022. (MF)

Marcel Beekman (Bababeck), Brenda Rae (Maïma) and Rachael Wilson (Balkis) © Monika Rittershaus

Director – Max Hopp
Set – Marie Caroline Rössle
Costumes – Ursula Kudrna and Sebastian Helminger
Lighting – Franck Evin
Refrain director – Ernst Raffelsberger
Choreography – Martina Borroni
Dramaturgy – Kathrin Brunner

Bababeck – Marcel Beekman
Le Grand-Mogul – Andreas Hörl
Saëb – Mingjie Lei
Kaliboul – Daniel Norman
Xaïloum – Sunnyboy Dladla (changed Andrew Owens)
Maïma – Brenda Rae
Balkis – Rachael Wilson
Périzade – Siena Licht Miller
Narrator – André Jung

Barkouf! Due to the title’s onomatopoeia it takes little creativeness to listen to the canine protagonist’s barks, growls and, nicely, ‘woufs’ nevertheless it additionally consists of this three-act opera’s characterisation as ‘bouffe’. And there may be extra. Jacques Offenbach’s opus, primarily based on Eugène Scribe’s libretto, takes us to the far-off city of Lahore the place Barkouf the canine is enthroned as ruler.

The Zurich premiere is just Barkouf’s third ever rendering. It made its debut in 1860 on the Paris Opéra Comique, the place it was censured and locked away after solely a handful of performances, deemed too essential of Napoleon III’s Second Empire.

Whereas the rating does embody the odd harmonious and light-footed three-quarter time sing-along tunes, as we all know them from La Belle Hélène, for instance (composed 4 years later than Barkouf), the music bears additional witness to each Offenbach’s talent and genius. His virtuosity and inimitable type are there, his inexhaustible melodic innovations, style for parody and important derision and the energetic vitality of waltz and polka rhythms. The orchestra additionally ventures into dissonances, orientalism within the instrumentation and even polytonality, nearly remarkable – and most undoubtedly surprising – on the time. Certainly, politics little doubt performed an necessary half in consigning the piece to oblivion, however of an equally damning impact was Hector Berlioz’s verdict, who within the Journal des Débats rhetorically puzzled whether or not the composer had ‘misplaced his thoughts’. It took one other century and a half till the Opéra nationwide du Rhin in Strasbourg unearthed the piece in 2018 for a manufacturing additionally proven in Cologne a yr later.

The Nice Mogul of Lahore, the ‘ruler of all rulers, star of all stars’ appoints Barkouf, the canine, as the pinnacle of presidency to humiliate his rebellious individuals. Unsurprisingly the Nice Mogul’s plan backfires. Quite than triggering humiliation, Barkouf is beloved by the individuals, he’s celebrated as the perfect ruler they ever had. The canine’s success just isn’t of its making alone, in fact. His barked rulings are proclaimed by the flower lady Maïma, Barkouf’s former proprietor turned official translator. Taxes are halved for the poor and insurgents condemned to demise by the tyrant are acquitted. Alongside all this, a fortunately ending love story unfolds too, Maïma will get to tie the knot along with her Saëb by the top of the night.

Director Max Hopp and Marie Caroline Rössle (stage) along with Ursula Kudrna and Sebastian Helminger (costumes) ship in full on Hopp’s promise to current the viewers with a ‘fats piece of cream gateau’. Accordingly, the costumes cowl a broad vary from light pastel oriental robes to over-the-top uniforms worthy of any Roman centurio awaiting defeat by Asterix. The stage is dominated by a M. C. Escher revolving spiral staircase of gigantic proportions – on, round and below which the motion is about. Being confronted with the total forged plus the generously staffed refrain in corpore on the construction conveys an virtually overly wealthy feeling of saturation.

Zurich Opera’s Barkouf © Monika Rittershaus

Hopp’s directing calls for fairly some performing from the forged. No marvel, since in his earlier life as an actor Hopp was no stranger to heavy responsibility performing himself. He has labored for Frank Castorf in Zurich and in 2019 he impersonated a dozen or so roles concurrently as John Styx in Barrie Kosky’s Orphée aux enfers in Salzburg. That maybe spurred Hopp to writer narration changing the unique (and partly misplaced) dialogues. The actor Andre Jung reviews, recapitulates, feedback and explains the plot because the night unfolds, from time to time dissolving the boundaries between theatre and actuality when instantly addressing and being addressed by the singers with precise names. Admittedly, these spoken components did add size. And Jung didn’t seem completely relaxed together with his textual content.

The forged – Offenbach requires at least 4 tenors – was a little bit of a combined bag on premiere night time. Given the opera’s hitherto apocryphal life, it was a night of function debuts. Marcel Beekman (Bababeck, a fundamental conspirator) appeared considerably dragged down by his heavy plateau footwear however introduced moments of playful pleasure nonetheless. Mingjie Lei as Saëb and Daniel Norman as Kaliboul have been reliably comedian. Xaïloum was sung by Sunnyboy Dladla (member of the 2019 Köln forged and changing Andrew Owens, who was indisposed, at very quick discover). Though he wanted a while to adapt to the orchestra, by the top he delivered a full-throated and fascinating efficiency.

The three feminine roles made for absolute highlights. Brenda Rae as Maïma and Rachael Wilson as Balkis have been merely splendid. Rae, a seasoned Queen of the Night time and Zerbinetta, is a strong, agile and charming coloratura soprano who visibly loved the performing. Wilson’s mezzo voice has an interesting mixture of roughness and enthralling delicacy. Siena Licht Miller’s Périzade was versatile and light-weight.

Choreographer Martina Borroni is given loads of room to underscore Barkouf’s revue side. Her eight-musician-strong ensemble supplies entertaining interludes and makes stunning appearances as a Can-Can troupe, clad in Rio carnival gear – and reworked right into a pack of canines (which reminds us: we by no means really get to see the eponymous protagonist).

Lastly, director Jérémie Rohrer takes cost of the night’s musical drive. The founding father of the interval devices orchestra Le Cercle de l’Harmonie leads the excellently disposed Philharmonia Zurich and the well-balanced refrain. Collectively they navigate the advanced and diversified rating, aptly modulating between finely swinging operetta waltzes, bel canto melodiousness and grand opera in full blast with all voices on deck.

The premiere curtain calls have been met with avid applause all through. Additional performances can be on 27 and 30 October, 4, 6, 9, 13, 17, 19 and 22 November.

Michael Fischer