La Vie Parisienne
Music by Jacques Offenbach: Book and lyrics by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.
Théâtre du Palais-Royal, Paris - 31 October, 1866
Paris in the 1860s - and cosmopolitan gaiety has reached new heights of delightful frivolity. A divertingly-tangled tale of flirtatious masquerading and romantic intriguing, it concerns irresponsible men-about-town, fashionable demimondaines, aristocratic visitors in search of a good time, and a motley assortment of flamboyant characters. irrepressible, vivacious music and scenes of rapturous hilarity make this glittering vision of life in the 'Gay Paree' of the Second Empire a marvellously enjoyable show.
Idle Parisians foregather in front of the Saint-Lazare railway station to watch the arrival of foreign tourists. Two young dandies — Raoul de Gardefeu and Bobinet — are there too but not out of idle curiosity. They are in love with the same woman, the demi-mondaine Metella, and have come to meet her. They are busy avoiding each other studiously when the Trouville train arrives, bringing Metella. The two lovers rush forward but the minx is escorted by a third beau and brazenly asserts that she doesn't know the other two. When she has gone, Gardefeu and Bobinet fall into each other's arms and patch up their quarrel; they decide that it's high time they gave up all these <<fast women>> and their costly ways for the homely and disinterested sweetness of the << ladies of fashion>> on the boulevard Saint-Germain. Bobinet rushes off full of hope. Meanwhile Gardefeu meets his former man-servant Joseph who is now a guide employed by the Grand-Hotel. Joseph has come to fetch some customers who are arriving by the Le Havre train, the baron de Gondremarck, a wealthy Swede, and his wife. The Swedes appear and as the baroness turns out to be enchantingly pretty, Gardefeu asks Joseph to let him take his place. Thanks to a large tip, Joseph becomes helpfulness itself and leaves Gardefeu with his new customers while freshly arrived travellers continue to pour out of the station; among them is a Brazilian millionaire obviously bent on spending his money as lavishly and as fast as he can.
Gardefeu has brought his Swedes to his own town-house, telling them that it is an annexe of the Grand-Hotel. His first care is to lodge them in separate bedrooms, with a view to fostering his own amorous projects. The baron, intent as he puts it on <<stuffing himself up to there>>, raises no objections. His main ambition is to make the acquaintance of the lovely Metella whose countless perfections have been detailed to him by one of his Swedish friends. Who should then walk in but Metella herself, come to make things up with her betrayed lover. Gardefeu is in a quandary and explains that Metella's apartments are now occupied by the baroness. Metella leaves in a rage, bent on revenge. Meanwhile Gardefeu plans to entertain the baron with a table d'hote for this first night and then to get rid of him the next evening by sending him off to some improvised social <<do>>, so as to give himself a clear field with the baroness. All this however, is easier said than done. Fortunately, Gabrielle the glover and Frick the boot-maker come to deliver their goods. Gardefeu takes them into his confidence and they readily undertake to collect a few friends to make up the table d'hote. Frick dresses up as a major and Gabrielle as the widow of a colonel, and dinner goes off with a swing.
Gardefeu has entrusted the organisation of his social <<do>> to Bobinet who has been left in charge of his aunt's town-house while the good lady is out of Paris. Bobinet, who is nursing his wounds after his first contact with the <<disinterestedness>> of the ladies of fashion, nevertheless throws himself into the fray with commendable spirit. His aunt's servants will masquerade as fashionable guests, while Bobinet himself will take on the part of the baron's host, Admiral Walter, with the dowager's chambermaid, Pauline, posturing as his wife. She is under strict injunctions to seduce the baron and keep him away from his wife as long as possible. Everyone gets marvellously tipsy and the party is a howling success.
The Brazilian millionaire is offering a masked ball at the
Cafe Anglais. Alfred the majordomo is busy instructing his waiters,
advising them to << close their eyes>> as much as
they can. His advice is very sound for astonishing events are
about to take place which it would be too difficult to explain.
Let us merely say that Metella, anxious to win back Gardefeu,
is in league with the baroness who wants to extricate her husband
from the perils of Parisian life; that Gardefeu and the baron
almost come to blows and that the Brazilian and Gabrielle the
pretty glover discover the virtues of love at first sight. All
is well that ends well.
6 female, 7 male - and 2 male small character parts
CAST (in order of appearance)
Adaptation by Phil Park and Ronald Hanmer for amateur production. Professional Version: Sadler's Wells 24 May 1961 (adaptation by by Geoffrey Dunn)