APPLETON — A little known but wildly charismatic French comic opera makes its Wisconsin premiere Feb. 18-22 when Lawrence University stages four performances of “L’Étoile” (The Star).
Written by Emmanuel Chabrier, “L’Étoile” will be performed Feb. 19-21 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 22 at 3 p.m. in Stansbury Theatre of the Lawrence Music-Drama Center, 420 E. College Ave., Appleton. Tickets, at $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens and students, are available at the Lawrence University Box Office, 920-832-6749.
The witty libretto, matched by Chabrier’s score packed with musical jokes and parodies, weaves an absurdly complicated love story among a bizarre cast of characters. The young and often foolish hero Lazuli falls in love with the beautiful Princess Laoula, only to have his dreams dashed away by the older but equally foolish King Ouf, who wants to marry Laoula himself.
“L’Étoile” premiered in 1887, at a time when Jacques Offenbach, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Johann Strauss were delighting the world with their comic operettas. Bonnie Koestner, Lawrence associate professor of music and vocal coach for the opera, hails it as “a neglected masterpiece.”
“Though initially well-received, ‘L’Étoile’ has only in recent years enjoyed a well-deserved revival of interest,” said Koestner, who describes its music as “absolutely charming, sophisticated and melodious.”
Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Timothy X. Troy, who is directing the production, says the opera’s varied and theatrical music offered a great match for the student performers.
“It has a warm and sometimes naughty sense of humor. I was so inspired by Chabrier’s playfulness,” said Troy.
Working with costume designer Emily Rohm Gilmore, a 2001 Lawrence graduate, Troy took advantage of that playfulness, incorporating abstract pieces for the set and drawing inspiration from Italian surrealist Federico Felini’s classic film “8½” in the costume design.
The production, performed with a deliciously mischievous English translation by Jeremy Sams, features a double cast, with one set of singers performing Thursday and Saturday nights and the other taking the stage Friday and Sunday.
Seniors Lacey Jo Benter (Thursday-Saturday) and Emily Shankman (Friday-Sunday) portray Lazuli, senior Keely Borland (Th./Sat.) and junior Taylor Jacobson (F/Sun.) sing the role of the love interest Princess Laoula, and junior Alex Gmeinder (Th/Sat.) and senior Chris Roebuck (F/Sun.) are cast as King Ouf.
David Becker, professor of music and director of orchestral studies, will conduct the opera.
“We hope it will be a lively, delightful and even a little bit quirky evening at the opera,” said Troy.