Jacques Offenbach: Les Brigands (1869)

Opera bouffe en trois actes. Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes.

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This review is at the request of Nick at OperaScribe.

SETTING: Geographically inaccurate border between Spain and Italy, mid-19th century. A group of Brigands plan on making a lot of money from crashing the wedding of the Princess of Grenade to a duke of Mantoue, the latter being in love with the daughter of the chief of the Brigands, although he has a lot of other women on the side.

LINK:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLBEQZ4Kh3E&t=4371s

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: A wild rocky place. (53 minutes)

0: The overture **, no not the beginning of Bizet’s Carmen, the one Offenbach wrote. This is probably a tribute to the fact that the librettists of   Carmen also wrote the book for this.

4: Weird cat-calls, followed by hunting horns, but the introductory number, as we meet the Brigands is amusing *.

9: Four maidens arrives with their monk minder. and embark on a cute little number before they are ambushed by the fetching Falsacappa, the leader of the bandits **. Monk escapes, but the girls are taken to a dark subterranean layer.

15: The arrival of Fiorella, Falsacappa’s daughter, and her butch minders *** (although why she needs help packing heat is beyond me). She is like a thin chamois (seriously the libretto says so). Falsacappa now goes into some actual plot development: the bandits need to make money, so they plan on raiding the wedding of the Princess of Grenade to the Duke of Mantoue.

21: A young man has been captured (so young in fact that he is a mezzo-soprano) although apparently he and Fiorella know each other rather intimately somehow. A good ensemble **.

24, 30: This young man is Fragoletto and he embarks on a sweet little couplets **. Everyone disperses to a brief ensemble. Meanwhile, Fiorella falls in love with Elton John (poor girl, she doesn’t know). No actually, it is the Duke of Mantoue himself, and he is anyone other than Elton as he is totally into Fiorella. She explains to her admirer that he is in grave danger in a brilliant rondo ** but they are caught.

34: Fragoletto has intercepted the Princess’s messenger and rejoices upon completing his task to join the bandits in a saltarella ***.

39: The finale *** starts with the “reception” of Fragoletto into the bandit society. The four girls who got rounded up at the start of the act seem okay with participating actively in the rituals.

44: Fiorella ushers in the <<orgie>> ** for what it is worth, all it proves is that the bandits aren’t Jewish (wild boar isn’t kosher).

46, 51: The Carabiniers are traveling cross-country and happens near the encampment *. Fragoletto wants to attack them but Falsacappa stops him. They will let the soldiers travel in peace. They apparently always show up too late for everything. Now they have to sing very low. It starts to snow for some reason and they all rejoice (and I think Falsacappa is raped by the four girls) as the curtain falls **.

ACT 2: Pipo’s inn on the frontier. (50 minutes)

1: After a very brief entr’acte, and we get a happy chorus of domestics **. There are some geographical problems with this operetta. It is supposed to be set on the boarder between Italy and Spain, which has never existed, apparently the librettists had never heard of a little place called la France. Also there are live chickens on stage, which actually is rather cool. I think Pipo’s daughter is on the spectrum. However, they might all be.

7: So the bandits start terrorizing the inn, eventually they come up like zombies looking for bread * in a canon. This is the weirdest thing I have never wanted to see.

11: An amusing duet for Fragoletto and Fiorella ** as the rest tie up the staff of the inn and take their places.

16: Trio des marmitons **. Fragoletto is promised Fiorella’s hand if the rouse proves successful.

21: The arrival of the delegation of the Mantuan party *. It is revealed that the Princess will be bringing with her 3 millions in cash as dowry that the Duke plans on using to pay his debts.

28: The taking of the two delegate members is followed by the arrival of the delegation of the Princess of Grenade ** to a rather familiar Spanish dance tune which turns into a concert aria for the Baron of Campo-Tasso.

38: A placid couplets for Fiorella **, followed by the orders from Falsacappa that the visitors are to retire.

42: The finale *: The Spanish party figures out the rouse, but it is too late. All except the Princess are intimidated and it doesn’t help that the one police force has helped themselves to the cellar wine.

ACT 3: Great Hall, Palace at Mantua. (28 minutes)

0: The entr’acte *.

1, 11: The opening chorus of the Duke’s mistresses (many in number) and his couplets **. The 3 millions can not come more quickly, although the debt that the Duke has racked up is more the fault of treasurer Antonio, which he explains in an amusing aria *.

13: The Spanish invasion *: Fiorella is disguised as the Princess (with Fragoletto as her page) and the Brigands do their best to pretend to be a caravan invading from the southern border. Fiorella realizes that she knows the Duke and he her so the rouse will not work. The Duke is apparently an idiot (the only question he asks her is “Who is the king?” to which her obvious answer is “My daddy”.

24: The finale ** It is revealed that the Treasurer has been stealing from the Duke (and apparently knows Puccini), and the real Spanish delegation arrives with the Princess. The brigands are about to be punished when Fiorella returns to a reprise of her “I am the daughter of the bandit king” ballad from act 1 and reminds the Duke the she saved him from the Brigands earlier so he pardons them in exchange for a vow that they never steal again. The tune from the overture ends things.

COMMENTS:

Critical consensus (not mine) on the score is that it is not one of Offenbach’s best as there aren’t very many catchy tunes. Personally, I like Fiorella’s entrance aria and Fragoletto’s saltarella, but that is just personal taste. The plot is amusing, if reliant upon the ensemble performances and cultural context rather than itself, and the songs seem to make more sense in context than in Hoffmann. It is also not episodic, which is a relief. From what I have read this actually has a more substantial plot than almost any other Offenbach operetta. Overall, one is unlikely to be bored with this work. Something between an alpha and a beta. Beyond that I’ll leave it up to readers to decide for themselves.

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6 thoughts on “Jacques Offenbach: Les Brigands (1869)

  1. Blimey, you have been busy, me old china.

    Thanks for this! Reading between the lines, I guess you’re not as enamoured of Offenbach as I am. “It’s not as bad as Hoffmann: the songs are less bizarre; there’s a moderately amusing plot; it’s not episodic; and, hey, it’s not boring!” Damning with faint praise!

    Only one star for “Les bottes les bottes les bottes”, the canon, and no stars for ” Y’a des gens qui se dis’nt espagnols” ?

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    1. Well, I liked Ba-ta-clan! I found the canon annoying to be honest, one of those instances where seeing it degraded my opinion, I found it a little creepy when I know it was intended to be funny. I didn’t say that Hoffmann was bad, only that this has a more coherent plot, it isn’t episodic but a flowing narrative.

      I don’t know if I would say I don’t like Offenbach. I’m trying to at least! It is possible that you get French humour better than I, although Offenbach was actually a German Jew, but whatever his works are French.

      Oh, and a few of these reviews were things I had laying around partially completed for months. I just decided to get them all in at once.

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    2. Offenbach is someone I am willing to try to like even if it ends up killing me. Just speaking of his personality, he seems to have been a very kind and fun loving person, and this is expressed in his music. For me, he is like someone who you want to have as a friend but at the same time you also think they are weird or eccentric.

      It is also possible that the ability to evaluate him is not a skill I yet possess.

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      1. It might also be a question of temperament. (Know anything about Myers-Briggs, btw?) I’ve got that offbeat sense of humour myself, so respond to it in others.

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