“Everyone steals according to one’s position in society.” A social critique, a credo to live by, and a recipe for the hilarious satire of Jacques Offenbach’s Les Brigands! The Opéra Comique’s rollicking 2011 production took full advantage of the talents of stage directors Macha Makeïeff and Jérôme Deschamps (members of the wildly successful French comedy troupe Les Deschiens) and the accomplished music director François-Xavier Roth.
When Les Brigands had its 1869 premiere, Jacques Offenbach was Paris's reigning king of the operetta. Since 1855 he had made his living creating a brilliant musical satire about the Napoleon III and his Second French Empire, and reaped considerable rewards for his universally beloved work. Set to a libretto of Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy (who would later collaborate with Bizet to produce Carmen), Offenbach’s newest creation lampooned both the world of theater and French society with a cheerfully amoral plot: more complex than that of most Offenbach operettas, the story follows a band of brigands led by their chief, Falsacappa, as they attempt to steal the fortune of the Duke of Mantua. The new work was a great success, but the outbreak of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War was the beginning of the end of this happy phase of the composer’s career: his imperial connections and German birth would transform him into an enemy in the context of wartime, casting a shadow over the latter part of his career.
Photo: © Martin Fraudreau