New Sussex Opera is set to bring Belle Lurette (1880), a little-known comic operetta by Offenbach, to the UK stage for the first time in 140 years, the Lewes-based opera company has announced.
Belle Lurette was Offenbach’s last opera. He wrote it when he was dying, at the same time as his operatic masterpiece Tales of Hoffmann. The orchestration had to be completed by French composer Delibes. Offenbach never got to see the opera performed: it received its premiere a month after the composer died in October 1880.
Set in 18th century Paris, it is a tale of working class women getting the better of the rich and powerful. The plot centres on the eponymous beautiful laundress Lurette and her fellow washerwomen as they refuse to give in to the sexual demands of Louis XV.
The women are employed in a Parisian washing service owned by elderly spinster Madame Marceline. They collect laundry from the homes of the aristocracy, before washing and returning it. They are all dab hands at fending off unwanted advances. But things get complicated when Lurette meets the Duc de Marly. The two fall in love, despite their hugely different social positions.
However, the king is looking for a new mistress to replace Madame Pompadour. He despatches his chief match-maker Malicorne to the duke’s home to order him to marry Lurette. This would elevate her to the position of duchess, making her a suitable target for the king. Once married she is to be presented at court, where Louis XV intends to seduce her.
Lurette is tricked into the marriage by being reassured it is just a pretend wedding – only for the truth to be revealed when the wedding has taken place and it’s too late for her to back out. When she discovers this, she and the other laundresses conspire to disrupt her presentation to the king and prevent his planned seduction.
This new version of Belle Lurette is directed by David Foster, with a new English-language libretto by Paul Featherstone; the British tenor also sings the role of Malicorne. Toby Purser conducts St Paul’s Sinfonia. The production is designed by Victoria Gillians, with lighting by Jason Ahn and choreography by Kitty Needham.
In addition to Featherstone, the main cast includes Scottish soprano Monica McGhee as the titular heroine, British tenor Robin Bailey as the Duc de Marly and British contralto Kristin Finnigan as Marceline.
Rounding out the cast are Scottish baritone Michael Ferguson as Campistrel, English bass-baritone Giles Davies singing two roles as Belhomme and La Boisene, English tenor Cameron Mitchell as Merluchet, British tenor Tristan Stocks as Cigogne, and British mezzo-soprano Rebecca Hughes as Friquette.
The New Sussex Opera Chorus will also be taking on singing duties. Singers interested in joining the chorus can register with New Sussex Opera. Details of how to get involved, along with rehearsal dates, can be found on the company’s website.
The production opens at Lewes Town Hall at 7.30pm on 10 November. It then travels to The Old Market in Hove, with performances at 3pm and 7.30pm on 20 November, and to Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne, with a 7pm performance on 25 November. The final show takes place at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre at 7.30pm on 6 December.
Tickets for all performances are on sale now. Prices vary.
“If you are looking for a fast-paced, farcical night of fun, then do grab your tickets for our UK premiere of Offenbach’s final operetta offering, Belle Lurette,” New Sussex Opera said in a statement.
Lewes-based New Sussex Opera is set to present a brand new English-language version of Offenbach’s lost comic operetta Belle Lurette this winter.