In a lovingly sung and enacted one hour work based on a wedding day farce, 19th century French operetta nonpareil Jacques Offenbach’s A Husband at the Door comes to life in a delightfully delivered divertissement at Melbourne’s The Butterfly Club.
To a French libretto by Alfred Delacour and Léon Morand – enunciated and executed with much aplomb by the cast of four young developing artists – this comic rarity which premiered in 1859 showered its charms generously.
Here’s how it goes. Florestan, a composer of operetta no less and fleeing his creditors, drops out of a chimney into the boudoir of newlywed bride Suzanne. Moments later, Suzanne, upset after a quarrel with her husband Henri, enters with her bridesmaid Rosita.
Suzanne pleads with Florestan to leave via the window in order to save her honour. That turns out to be a bad idea since they are on the third floor. As the trio think of a plan out, Florestan learns that Suzanne’s husband is the bailiff on the hunt for him.
When Henri comes knocking at the door, desperation rises and in no time at all Florestan makes an unlikely marriage proposal when he remembers his old aunt had promised to clear his debts if he marries. A shocked and initially hesitant Rosita accepts just as Henri comes crashing in.
Need tips on directing a bubbly little operetta wirh less than 10sqm on hand, including cast and musical accompaniment? Artistic Director Kate Millett of BK Opera can oblige.
Millet injects just enough comic energy without over egging the melodrama. And for its stage limitations, the bedroom setting evoked by the storytelling is realised in ultra-basic but adequate form with little more than two ribboned chairs positioned in front of the stage’s velvet rear curtain. Well-tailored costumes add early 20th century elegance.
To the side, a keyboard provided a hiding space for Florestan, while pianist Sung Won Choi gave immense flavour and striking vitality to the score and expert attention to conductor Gloria Gamboz’s thoughtfully driven tempi.
Giving sweeping flamboyance to the composer Florestan, Joshua Erdelyi-Gotz sports a warm and pliable tenor with strong stage presence. Winner of the OperaChaser Award for Young Developing Artist 2022, mezzo-soprano Olivia Federow-Yemm employs excellent richness and depth of voice as the confused and not-so-happy bride Suzanne.
We wish Eliza Bennetts O’Connor the best in vocal recovery – for the second evening she walked and mimed through the role of Rosita with sparkling cheerfulness while soprano Belinda Dalton dispatched a notable smorgasbord of mellifluously sung music. Luckily, the surprise arrangement worked effortlessly with the comedy.
Completing the cast and singing with great gusto almost entirely offstage, baritone Jonathan Rumsam finally makes a tumbling entrance as bourgeois Henri. And in a thumping set piece quartet during the mayhem, all voices blend wonderfully.
It’s a fun little romp with perhaps a whisker of Offenbach’s own circumstances mirrored in its context. Offenbach was not a savvy businessman and his extravagant productions had left the Parisian theatre he leased in dire straits. Fortunately, the tide turned in the 1860s when staggering success rained down.
Among the almost 100 operettas he composed, A Husband at the Door still has the bones to get some laughs and yet discernible insight sits within the humour. One adventurous couple thought they were attending an evening of stand up comedy and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. It’s an hour of theatre deserving of support.
A Husband at the Door
The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne
Performance: Tuesday 14 February 2023
Season continues to 18 February 2023
For more information, visit: www.bkopera.com.au for details
Image: A Husband at the Door – photo by Kate Cameron
Review: Paul Selar