Image: Anna Vette Kindleysides and Helen Wood

“It really gives you a gateway into opera”: ‘La Vie Parisienne’ preview

There are worse things to do on a cold February evening than watch “a wild party scene in Paris, bright young things going and drinking, having fun, being hedonistic.”

This is exactly what Opera Warwick’s latest production, Jacques Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne, promises. Director Aphra Hiscock explains: “It’s exciting because 2019 is actually the 200th anniversary of Jacques Offenbach’s birth. This show has an exciting cast, with lots of solo roles, so we can really show off all of our best singers. It’s also got fun chorus parts so it’s a good ensemble show, but it still gives soloists a chance to shine.”

The nice thing about the show is that you can see the way the music theatre tradition evolves out of this kind of music

Aphra Hiscock

Many young people are put off by the prospect of opera, but Hiscock points out that La Vie Parisienne is actually an operetta, making it more accessible for novices. “The nice thing about the show is that you can see the way the music theatre tradition evolves out of this kind of music. It’s like a precursor to music theatre. So if you’ve never seen an opera before, it’s very easy to recognise the themes and traditions that you see in musical theatre, and also in things like Shakespeare – that story of mixed up couples, being with the wrong people and then finding the right pairings again. You definitely see that throughout the show.” Laurie Duncan, the musical director, adds: “And it’s really funny, it’s a comedy.”

The cast members have already been won over to the operetta. Caroline Smith, the producer, enthuses: “Aphra and Laurie have been fantastic in finding new people, and that’s absolutely to their credit. For a society like Opera that is so niche, to have new people coming in is the most vital part.” Hiscock adds: “I’d never done an opera before university and I don’t think any of the leads had either – every single person came in completely blind. It’s so exciting now, seeing first years like us coming in and thinking ‘oh, this is opera’.”

Everyone has this great enthusiasm – people get along really well and that shows on stage

Niamh Murphy

Gus Reid, a chorus member, agrees with his director: “It’s been interesting to watch people who had been quite shy about going on stage, really getting into the songs and enjoying the characters more.”

Niamh Murphy, a soloist, is especially proud of the atmosphere of this production: “It’s not as scary as you’d think, nowhere near. Everyone has this great enthusiasm – people get along really well and that shows on stage. You can tell through the production that everyone’s enjoying themselves and is committed to it.” This commitment certainly shows, as it is clear from talking to the team the immense amount of work they have put in. Hiscock offhandedly mentions that Duncan hand-wrote the entire vocal score: “It’s like our own edition of the opera, which is incredibly exciting.”

Westwood café was the site of much of the production’s inception. “We sat there and just ploughed through it, and got slowly more excited about the prospect of the cast bringing it to life. We had to change a couple of Americanisms and archaic phrases. There was a long song about someone being “tight”, which we’ve translated to “drunk”, so it makes more sense. ‘Tight’ is fairly old-fashioned American slang for intoxication.”

If you like musical theatre, opera is a perfect opportunity to try something new

Gus Reid

The team’s excitement and belief in the show crystallise when I ask them why people should come to see it. Reid starts: “It’s so full of energy, it really gives you a gateway into opera. It’s an easy plot flow, it’s really enjoyable, and you can engage with all of the songs and all of the characters. If you like musical theatre, opera is a perfect opportunity to try something new.”

Hiscock is keen to emphasise that it is financially accessible. “We have really cheap student tickets –  we not only have a concession rate, we then have an additional concession if you’re a student at Warwick. If you’re going to experiment with opera then it makes sense to do it here, where you’re not investing too much money.”

Smith concludes: “I personally didn’t do music before, so it’s nice for me to see so many people getting involved. I can say from an outsider’s perspective, it’s really accessible, really easy to understand, and it’s a really fun watch – so why wouldn’t you want to come and see it?”

La Vie Parisienne is at the Warwick Arts Centre, Thursday 7 – Saturday 9 February. Tickets are available here

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