If you have ever wondered why a slapstick comedy is so called then look no further than Gilbert Deflo’s production of Prokofiev’s L’Amour des trois oranges recorded by L’Opéra de Paris in 2005. There’s a great deal of smacking with sticks; most of it by Barry Banks who gleefully whacks just about any bottom, male or female, that comes within range. The production is also slapstick in the generally understood sense of broad physical comedy. There are elements of commedia del arte and lots of circus; jugglers, clowns, fire swallowers, all wrapped up in a sort of 20s vamp aesthetic. It’s wildly chaotic in a rather fun way though it’s all a bit overwhelming and probably worked better in the theatre than on DVD.
This is another of those Arthaus Blu-ray disks that’s sold at a silly cheap price as a carrier for two hours of trailers from the Arthaus catalogue. That said, it’s very high quality indeed. GIlbert Deflo’s production is, in the end, quite conventional though with careful and effective Personenregie. He does trick us a bit at the start. The scene opens with what is, apparently, a rather louche 16th century court entertainment/orgy. There are bare breasted women and dancers of both sexes dressed as Satanic imps. Everyone is in period costume including Rigoletto with jester hat, bells etc. The scene is, perhaps, what we expect. The “ladies” are very receptive to the duke’s advances. The men are resentful but not actively so. Then in comes Monterone in mid 19th century dress to denounce the proceedings and we, perhaps slowly, realise that this is a costume party. From there on there’s nothing very tricksy. The story gets told effectively and straightforwardly. We have been pulled, effortlessly, from the time of the libretto to the time of first performance and the parallels are drawn.
Director Gilbert Deflo was inspired by the Hall of Mirrors in the ducal palace in Mantua, scene of the first performance of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, to try and create something similar for the much larger Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. The result is an almost extreme HIP approach. Sets, costumes, acting and singing style are all what we have come to expect from HIP performances of baroque works. In this case even the conductor and orchestra wear period dress which is quite effective as conductor Jordi Savali looks remarkably like Monteverdi. For reasons I don’t understand though the lighting plot is one that could never have been realised with baroque forces. To further advance the “hall of mirrors” idea Deflo makes quite a lot of use of mirrors on stage reflecting the house back on itself which doesn’t really come off on video but I imagine, based on my experience with the COC’s staging of Semele, that it could work well if one was in the right part of the theatre. There’s also a fair amount of characters entering via the auditorium including a dramatic entrance for Savali as the brass and percussion play the opening toccata from stage boxes.