La Belle Hélène - 28th October
2017 - 7.30pm
|A comic operetta
by Jacques Offenbach is just right for an autumn evening. From
the composer of the Orpheus in the Underworld comes another light-hearted
musical treat based on the old mythical love-story of Paris,
son of the King of Troy, and King Menelaus's beautiful wife Helen.
It caused a bit of a scandal in Paris in the 1860's, with its
'nudge-nudge, wink-wink' innuendo and suggestive lyrics - the
height of permissiveness cloaked as a parody of antiquity.
The score includes some of Offenbach's best-loved melodies, sung
Kentish Opera is performing this work for one night only in a
CONCERT version. The professional lead soloists, the chorus and
the orchestra will be together on stage, all under the expert
and lively baton of our Musical Director Robyn Sevastos.
Review of La Belle Helene
by Martyn Harrison in Seen
Kentish Operas La
belle Hélène brings Autumnal Joy
Calchas (Graham Stone) & Orestes (Lindy Everett)
Jacques Offenbach, La belle Hélène (in English):
Soloists, Kentish Opera Chorus and Orchestra / Robyn Sevastos
(conductor), The Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks, 29.10.2017.
Costume Designer Carol Stevenson
Lighting Designers Colin Martin, Edward Palmer
A rare opportunity in the UK to hear and see one of Offenbachs
comic operettas made an Autumnal treat. The original was first
produced in Paris in 1864 and later titled Helen or Taken from
the Greek in the London premiere of 1866. A light hearted
musical offering based on the mythical story of Helen
the beautiful wife of King Menelaus and her dalliance with Paris
son of the King of Troy. A truly rumbustious French romp
through the world of Greek mythology with familiar, hummable
The evening was advertised as a Concert performance, but in fact
was semi staged with linking narration to good effect. The occasional
use of scores did not detract from the overall theatrical experience.
The staging was essentially simple with chorus seated upstage
and the 20 piece orchestra onstage left, with centre and stage
right areas dressed with simple furniture and properties. All
the principals appeared in Costume which was suitably period
Greek, albeit theatrically glamorous and colourful. The chorus,
though fixed in position, were clearly involved in the plot,
singing with clarity and full tone from the start, particularly
creditable in the first Allegro vivace sections.
The title role of Helen was taken by Stefanie Kemble-Read, who
made a believable, unfaithful consort to King Menelaus (Daniel
Meades). She appeared in a variety of suitably glamorous costumes
and her early, popular aria Amour devins O Gods of Love
in celebration of the Feast of Adonis, showed off a bright vocal
presence. There were times during the evening when the onstage
orchestra rather overpowered some of her lower register, which
was unfortunate. In Act II, attired in negligee, her romp with
Paris was inevitable, having convincingly sought the council
of Venus Dis moi Vénus. Left alone with the youthful
Paris (Tristan Stocks), their Dream duet was delightful
Oui cest une rêve; both voices complementing
each other in timbre and emotional intensity. Stocks high
English tenor had already been heard to good effect in the well
known Judgement of Paris aria Au mont Ida, where his repetitive
top notes were taken with impressive ease. Sadly again, balance
issues were evident in this aria when jumping from low to high
register within a bar; a difficult feature of Offenbachs
score. However, in the finale to Act II there were audience pleasing,
high tessitura sections, where true tenor bravura was employed
to great effect in the Ill be back moment.
Calchas, the High Priest of Jupiter (Graham Stone) and King Agamemnon
(Ian Belsey) were a well matched, experienced duo, both vocally
and in comic timing; relishing the humour of the piece and displaying
their professionalism in putting over this semi staged version.
Particularly enjoyable was the linking narration from Belsey.
His rapport with the audience and cast, reminiscent of pantomime,
certainly added to the joi de vivre. His scripted clarification
of the plot with asides gave a memorable bewhiskered portrayal.
Stone made a good opera seria character of Calchas and his secure
baritone was a pleasure, particularly when anchoring the ensemble
numbers in the finale Act II and Tyrollienne Act III.
Menelaus (Daniel Meades) was a suitably outraged monarch and
sang with confident tenorial fortitude, notable in ensembles
where his line was never overwhelmed, helping to bring out important
aspects of the complicated libretto.
The trousers role of Orestes, sung by Lindy Everett was one of
several Comprimario roles. Elegantly costumed, her Act II Couplet
There is nothing like wine and roses gave a chance for
her to display her mellow toned soprano, which was also consistently
clear during the ensembles.
Of the other minor roles, all well taken, the most notable was
Bacchus, not seen in Offenbachs original scoring. Here
sung with ringing clarity by Rebecca Foster. This was a strong
soprano voice, which would be good to hear in a more substantial
role. Completing the ensemble with a clear, confident tenor performance
was Achilles (Georg Tormann).
Finally, Robyn Sevastos as musical director was very active in
her control of orchestra and singers, though, as mentioned, balance
was occasionally an issue. Particularly enjoyable was the Overture
with good ensemble, once the initial Allegro settled and eminently
hummable waltzes followed. The three accelerating, final Allegro
sections were really exhilarating. Here it was good to see the
orchestra sweating, whilst giving a taste of the audible pleasure
This is a provincial opera group with professional soloists,
Orchestra and Community ensemble presenting opera to a high standard;
showing just what can be achieved outside the London metropolis.
It would be good to see a fully staged version of this cheeky
Offenbach operetta. Fortunately, Kentish Opera will be fully
staging their 2018 production of Cavalleria rusticana & I
Photographs © Andrew Waltham