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A Gem

Cohen Family Studio Theater
03/04/2011 -  & March 5, 6 2011
Jacques Offenbach: L'Île de Tulipatan
Spencer Viator (King Cacatois), Jessica Jacobs (Alexis), Ian McEuan (Romboïdal), Esther Kang (Théodorine), Shawn Mlynekas (Hermosa), Hilary Ginther (Tetaclack)
Dallas Heaton (Vocal Coach and Accompanist)
Jennifer Williams (director), Savanah Goins (Scenic Designer), Gustavo Valdes (Lighting Designer)

S. Mylnek, S. Viator, J. Jacobs (© G. Valdes/Courtesy of CCM)

L'Île de Tulipatan is one of several opéras-bouffes by Jacques Offenbach that the composer presented in his very own Théâtre des Bouffes parisiens during his long reign as King of Comic Opera in mid-19th century Paris. Offenbach owned two scrappy musical theaters – the Salle Lacaze and the Salle Chiseul, and he kept turning out these one-act gems for twenty years while moving his larger-though-no-better works – La belle Hélène, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, La Périchole, La Vie parisienne etc. to the major theaters in Paris.

L'Île de Tulipatan has a charming score by Offenbach and an outlandish libretto by Henri Chivot and Alfred Duru that tells the story of Théodorine's daughter, Hermosa (Spanish for beautiful), who is really a boy in girl's clothes - so that Mum can keep him out of the warmongering army. Then there's Alexis, the...err... beautiful... son of King Cacatois XXIII (pronounced ex-ex-ay-ay-ay.) Alexis is really a girl in boy's clothes. The young cross-dressers - in spite of what could be an immense identity crisis, fall in love. The big revelations come at the very end of the piece, so that they can get married and Offenbach can give us a delightful finale, suitably titled “A la fin de la pièce” (At the end of the Play.) On this island, Offenbach has a go at a number of French shticks, including Meyerbeer, the Army, and the Gallic penchant for smoking, wine, cuisine and “l'amour, toujours l'amour.”

The youthful, good-looking and fresh-voiced six-person cast could have kept Offenbach in business for many a season, with their fine handling of both the spoken dialogue (in English) and the songs (in French) with clear diction and idiomatic accuracy. Tenors Spencer Viator as King Cacatois and Ian McEuan as his Minister of Utter Chaos, Romboïdal, plus Mezzo-sopranos Esther Kang as Théodorine and Hilary Ginther (in the add-on role of Tetaclack) - all four fine comics and singing actors – serve their roles well. As the lovers, Soprano Jessica Jacobs as Alexis, the son who's really a daughter and Tenor Shawn Mlynekas as Hermosa, the daughter who's really a son, fill their romantic roles with gallic panache and all-American pizzazz. Chaowen Ting's musical direction is stylish and clear, and her cast sings with precision under her baton. Ever-enterprising CCM brings out this neglected gem and gives it a wacky staging by director Jennifer Williams and her student design team.

CCM is to be saluted for digging out of obscurity this enchanting opéra bouffe

The College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati

Rafael de Acha



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