Ruth Elleson's review.
I'd never thought costumes could make an opera, but the designs here recreate the heady mix of grande luxe and heady abandon that fits the period and the characters. Magda and her friends don't wear corsets in any sense. They're not buttoned up, but others are. Hence the tragedy. I wish I could find a photo of one of Poiret's famous "Grecian" dresses with dozens of tiny pleats, designed to skim the body so it moves like a zephyr. Freedom in clothing, freedom in spirit and the arts. Puccini firmly in the vanguard of the modern age. And so much fun!
What I'd give for the dress with mock bustle and ombre shadings from white thru grey. Or the eau de nil "Empire cut" dress, or almost best of all the trio of black and white outfits that Georgette, Lolette and Gabriela wear at Bulliers! Congratulations to the designers, Peter Rice and Chrissy Maddison.
Performances, too, were highly credtable. Kate Ladner's Magda looks splendid, and sings well, so carries the principal role well. But it's the secondary roles that catch the irreverent joie de vivre. Nearly everyone in this plot is outside society and owes nothing to the received order of things. Hence Bulliers which is raffish and louche. Perversely, Magda stands out in this crowd because she's trying to look incognito. but that's part of the impishness of this opera.
Which is why the spicy alternative roles matter so much. The cabaret girls are talented women who make an independent living and presumably aren't kept, like Magda..Sean Ruane's Ruggero limps mysteriously - has he been in other wars? If so, it's extra tragic that he's going back, perhaps to die, after his brief chance of love. Hal Cazalet's Prunier is too healthy to be Erik Satie, but just as alternative. And Hye-Youn Lee's Lisette epitomizes the whole gaudy, naughty, vivacious spirit of the opera. She, too, has dreams, but accepts setbacks graciously. When she sings about the whistles of the crowd, she makes the episode seem funny even though it ended her hopes. At least, one thinks, for the time being.
If you're going to do country house opera in the west of the city as Opera Holland Park does, you have a lot of competition. The facilities in a municipal park are never really going to be quite as glamorous, though the OHP crowd is dressier than Glyndebourne. Lots of money about, but I suspect different values. There's more room to manoeuvre artistically. Productions like this La Rondine come pretty close to the polish of The Royal Opera House, but can OHP pull off such wonders every time? At least OHP is approaching the major league. There's so much fuss made of pub opera these days, though it's always been around. But with pub opera, you always have to make enormous allowances. So much so that while pub opera can be amusing, it can't be taken seriously as art. As a vision, OHP is unique, and worth supporting on principle.