Conductor and Music Director Brian DeMaris Asks, "What is 'L'etoile'"?

What is L'Étoile? While I can usually describe most operas with ease, this question is tricky to answer in the case of Chabrier's three-act opera bouffe, written with the librettists Eugene Leterrier and Albert Vanloo and premiered in 1877 at Offenbach's Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens. It is the French equivalent to the more familiar Gilbert and Sullivan, written in a time and place when the operetta culture was more like what you might expect to see on Broadway – and not the commercial Disney-fied Broadway we know today, but an earlier Broadway where you may not have wanted to take your children! This aesthetic is portrayed in Baz Luhrmann's film, Moulin Rouge, which depicts how this sort of entertainment can divert the audience’s attention away from the weight of everyday problems – particularly amidst the social, political, philosophical and technological unrest in late 19th Century Europe. Premiered just months after Wagner’s Ring, this French operetta is the pinnacle of comic farce at the peak of European Romanticism. Though the opera centers on the quintessentially Romantic themes of love and death, here they are treated exceedingly lightly, if not irreverently. The nonsensical plot is on par with the most ridiculous stories of some of the greatest operas ever written (such as Mozart's Magic Flute and Wagner's Ring itself). And as is often the case with opera, it's Chabrier's beautiful score that prevents this work from falling into oblivion. But unlike Mozart and Wagner, don't expect any profound commentary on human existence. L'Étoile seems to adopt a greater perspective on love and death, sometimes even cynical, as if to say, "Try not to take things too seriously!"  One anonymous critic wrote about Chabrier's piano playing, "There was something clown-like and extravagant… which was both exciting and disconcerting." You may feel the same way with what you’re about to see tonight. “Exciting," "disconcerting," “clown-like," "extravagant,” – this is the uniquely charming world of L'Étoile. We hope you enjoy it, and try not to take it too seriously!

Brian DeMaris,
Director of Opera and Musical Theatre

Originally published in Main Stage Theater: Conductor and Music Director Brian DeMaris Asks, "What is 'L'etoile'"?.