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Indo-French opera enthralls Delhiites

Directed by Christophe Mirambeau, the four-act comedy transported the audience right into the heart of Paris with a clever interplay of digital backdrop and some smart but elegant props in the foreground.

Rita Joseph | New Delhi |

Bringing Paris to Delhi! That’s precisely what The Neemrana Music Foundation did with a veritable treat – an opera extravaganza ‘La Vie Parisienne’ – recently at the Kamani auditorium here.

Showcasing an exceptionally talented all-Indian cast of 30 singers who performed a French Orchestra – Pole Sup’93 – in collaboration with some local musicians, this classic comedy took audience by storm act after act on March 3-4.

The tone was set by a scintillating rendition of the song “An Evening in Paris” by Canadian opera singer Natalie Di Luccio, as a tribute to the swinging 60s and iconic Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore who had played the lead role in the Hindi film of the same title in 1967, to set the stage on fire.

Directed by Christophe Mirambeau, who travelled all the way from France, with Samuel Jean as the conductor, the opera was an experience on par with a Bollywood film: spectacular stage set up and magnificent costumes by celebrated Indian designer Rajesh Pratap Singh.

The four-act comedy transported the audience right into the heart of Paris with a clever interplay of digital backdrop and some smart but elegant props in the foreground. As scenes of famous Parisian landmarks like Gare Du Nord and Gare Saint Lazare flashed, the characters went about their business looking for love, lust and liaison, getting embroiled in various intrigues in the process.

The opera – in the genre of opera bouffe by 19th century German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach and performed in the national Capital, perhaps for the first time in India – has an interesting story behind it.

The musical extravaganza was the culmination of an idea that Aude Priya Wacziarg, managing trustee of the foundation, had while shopping for T-shirts during Covid pandemic, many of which had the Eiffel Tower emblazoned on them. And she wondered “Do all Indians want to go to Paris?” Simultaneously, she came across a T-shirt with the print “La Vie Parisienne”  –  which is the title of one of the most celebrated operas.

La Vie Parisienne is a truly humourous tale that is highly entertaining. For the Indian audience, all the dialogues were in English, interspersed with iconic musical moments from the composer Offenbach who was called the “French Mozart”.

The plot centres on a group of French characters encountering a number of foreign visitors who have come to Paris. Two young men, Bobinet and Raoul de Gardefeu, are rivals for the favour of the beautiful Metella, who spurns them in favour of a richer and older man. The two rejected men then become allies and decide that it is high time to give up fast women.

Gardefeu bribes his former valet Joseph and takes his place as a tourist courier conveying the wealthy Swedish Baron and Baroness Gondremarck to his house, pretending it is the Grand Hotel. While Baron is secretly keen to meet Metella, Gardefeu is enchanted by the Baroness. What ensues is a series of deceptions and hilarious encounters with servants masquerading as nobility at a party which ends with a riotous champagne supper and dance.

The comedy stems from the fact that both men and women look for passionate encounters while trying to keep up the pretence of societal decorum – the former maintaining a sense of old-fashioned chivalry when responding to the ladies’ overtures and the latter acting coquettish while feigning outraged modesty.

Ultimately, the seductress is not any woman here, but the city itself where passion and pleasure reign supreme. All is forgiven in the end. The energy of this risqué comedy is hard to escape as the famous Can-can music reaches its crescendo and the entire cast converges towards the end. As the audience stand up and break into a thunderous applause, conductor Jean does an encore much to their amazement and delight.

A visibly happy Mirambeau later said he was “very proud of his production” as he did not expect to find such talent in India, where opera is a lesser-known genre. As also the fact that the entire show was put up with only three weeks of rehearsals.

The two narrators Vipin Kumar and Yashraj Jadhav – both National School of Drama alumni – kept the audience enthralled with their comic timing right from the word go.

Akash Gadamsetty, who has been training in Western classical vocals since 2015, was outstanding in the dual roles of Le Bresilien and Frick while Anmol Talwar was fantastic – both in terms of singing and acting as he played Le Baron. Gabriel Harrison as Gardefeu and Jateen Shharma playing Bobinet also gave creditworthy performances, ably supported by Renie Mathew as Metella, Vaibhavi Singh as La Baronne and Shambhavi Mishra as Gabrielle. Nitya Vaz as Pauline and Aditi Jain as Leone were particularly impressive in their respective roles.

The only critique one could have with some of the actors was the lack of finesse while delivering dialogues. They could have done much better if they had worked on their diction and projected their voice more as some of the words were getting lost especially when their backs were turned to the audience. However, considering that most were trained singers and not actors, it can be considered a minor infraction.

As CEO of Seraphim strategic communication, partnering the Neemrana Music Foundation, Sunanda Rao- Erdem, herself a soprano with 20 years of operatic experience who has been training and preparing young talent, said it was no mean achievement to put up this show of this magnitude given the fact that it takes years of preparation.

What one witnessed in this first rate Indo-French collaboration was a culmination of years of efforts initiated by Aude Priya, scouring and training young talent in this revered art form.