La Vie parisienne

Jacques Offenbach

La Vie parisienne

Jacques Offenbach

Opéra bouffe, libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, created on the 31st of October 1866 at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, Paris, in five acts, then in four in 1873 at the Théâtre des Variétés.

New production of the Opéra national de Bordeaux Aquitaine.

Run time 2h45

Opéra national de Bordeaux Aquitaine from the 23rd of September to the 1st of October 2017.


Conductor : Marc Minkowski
Director : Vincent Huguet
Choreographer : Kader Attou
Set designer : Aurélie Maestre
Costume designer : Clémence Pernoud
Lighting designer : Bertrand Couderc
Chorus master : Salvatore Caputo
Assistant director : Sophie Petit
Dramaturgy : Louis Geisler
Musical preparation : Jean-Marc Fontana
Assistant conductor : Marc Leroy-Calatayud
Assistant set designer : Pilar Camps
Assistant lighting designer : Julien Chatenet

Deputy director of the ballet : Eric Quilleré
Ballet master : Aurélia Schaefer
Assistant choreographer : Mehdi Ouachek
Recorded music : Régis Baillet


Gabrielle : Anne-Catherine Gillet
Frick/Prosper : Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Le Baron : Marc Barrard
Métella : Marie-Adeline Henry
Raoul de Gardefeu : Philippe Talbot
Bobinet : Enguerrand de Hys
Le Brésilien : Matthias Vidal / Rodolphe Briand
La Baronne : Aude Extrémo
Pauline : Harmonie Deschamps
Joseph/Urbain/Alphonse : Aubert Fenoy
Léonie : Marie-Thérèse Keller
Louise : Adriana Bignani-Lesca
Clara : Rira Kim
Gontran : Luc Default

Orchestre national Bordeaux Aquitaine, Chœur de l’Opéra national de Bordeaux, Ballet de l’Opéra national de Bordeaux

Photos : © Vincent Pontet and Opéra national de Bordeaux, except
1, 2, 4, 5, 16, © Bertrand Couderc, et 6 et 17, © Aurélie Maestre

Note on the staging
Vincent Huguet

Grandeur and Decadence in the City of Paris



“I am once more completely dazzled, delighted
Ah, what a picture for my incredulous eyes!
I return at once charmed,
At last this evening I have seen Paris!”

 La Vie parisienne, rondeau of the Baroness, Act IV (1866)


One evening last December in Barcelona, as I started work on La Vie parisienne, a well-known Russian pianist told me a story I found magnificent, about her grandmother. Educated at the turn of the century within the Francophone and Francophile tradition, which was deeply ingrained in Russia at the time, this woman cherished a passion for Paris her entire life that she lived vicariously not only through her reading, but through regular meetings with friends who shared her enthusiasm, who had tea together while commenting in French on the latest fashions from Paris. It was only at a very advanced age towards the end of the 1980s that she finally realized her dream, visiting her granddaughter who lived in Paris and who watched this grandmother wander through a city that she knew by heart while marveling at all she had dreamed of and imagined for decades, surprising Parisians by speaking a language that, since the age of Marcel Proust, had slightly evolved. She returned to Russia, and a few weeks later she passed away. She had seen Paris.


I don’t know if La Vie parisienne was a part of her own “pantheon”, but the Offenbach’s masterpiece, with its inspired librettists, Meilhac and Halévy, makes its deserved place at the side of painters Caillebotte, Degas, the photographs of Brassaï, Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson and the films of Truffaut, among the many declarations of love to the French capital on which the ink will never fade. “A lucid declaration of love,” pointed out Sacha Guitry, who knew the romantic back and forths as well as the history of France and who seemed to insinuate that love is not always blind. One hundred and fifty years after the creation of La Vie parisienne at the Palais-Royal Theater (1866), the question is still relevant and remains one of the engines of this light and occasionally serious comedy in which one spends more time looking for than recognizing oneself. Two boys and one girl form a trio in the style of Jules and Jim (F. Truffaut, 1962), a tipsy Swedish couple, a Brazilian transformist, an artistic glove-maker, a fake boot-maker, mischievous urchins and sharp customers : the casting is perfect for launching oneself into an exploration of Paris, of appearance and sentiment. Without a doubt, the audience never ceases to recognize themselves or identify their close friends and family in this incredible cast of the commedia dell arte and the Balzac-esque human comedy as much as it seems to align with the “types” that are completely contemporary. Perhaps the glove-makers of Paris today are less numerous than during the Second Empire, but not the young women who have decided to declassify and conquer the capital and then the world; without a doubt the “dandies” that were Gardefeu and Bobinet have disappeared, but the hipsters have succeeded them, and what to say of the rich Brazilian, ruined and remade, a businessman without shame but not without heart who has the allure of Woland, the distinguished stranger who arrived in Moscow one day in the beginning of the novel by Boulgakov, The Master and Marguerite (1940) and who was actually the devil incarnate come to pay humankind a visit. As for the Swedish baron and his wife, they are surely the characters closest in spirit to that Russian grandmother: they have read, understood, imagined, hoped for this city and all they would experience within it. Madame Bovary is him and is her! She is not Parisian, this annoys her as it does her husband who longs to recapture a youth that was far too austere. On the verge of tears the baroness says, “At last this evening I have seen Paris!” at the end of a night in which she understood nothing of what was said or took place around her. Her husband has the same experience during a party, which begins well but swerves to near nightmare. Faced with these two “foreigners” that don’t seem so sharp, the Parisians play many roles—guide, mayor, colonel’s widow, admiral, countess, etc.—sometimes in order to hide their cards from a couple that takes pleasure in swindling, but also because it is their deep essence, their manner of saying things, testing the waters and amusing themselves, constantly reinventing themselves and hopping along on one leg to a social checkmate that is as brilliant as it is smooth, as generous as it is cruel.


It is perhaps thanks to this dramaturgy that La Vie parisienne has never ceased to be contemporary: its protagonists dance on the cornices and gutters suspended between two worlds, the high and the low, the day and the night, that of the most ruthless social satire and that of the party and pleasure that washes away all discomfort. In order to jump from one rooftop to another, it is better to have one’s name on the list or the password, not “Fidelio” as in Eyes Wide Shut (S. Kubrick, 1999), but “desire” or “money”: it is also this experience that shapes the characters of La Vie parisienne. Offenbach speaks of a society where prostitution, in all its forms, is omnipresent; the codes have most certainly changed and the “cocodettes” no longer call themselves as such, but the priced relationships haven’t disappeared, nor the ambiguities of desire, its twists and its surprising trajectories. Queen of the uncertain—and of the night—Métella reestablishes the truth of the hour of women, which despite the false pretenses have conducted the dance from beginning to end.


Each person in the course of this “mad day” punctuated with peaks and free falls, which, as in Mozart’s masterpiece, ends with “a broad apology,” is surprised by something that he or she did not expect: the eyes which find themselves in the midst of a crowd in a chaotic train station, the moon which rises above the rooftops, an outstretched hand, stolen kisses and even the shadow of the Bastille’s genius, at the end of the night. Because beneath the caricature, occasionally intransigent, the discomfort rises to the surface, the fear of solitude and that it is already too late, the impatience, the urgency of holding someone tightly in ones arms. The laughs are there admittedly to chase away these clouds, large and small, whenever they threaten the Paris sky, as capricious as the latest fashion or a lover’s mood, making this Vie parisienne a variation in grey and gold. Gray like the zinc of the rooftops, the rain, the cobblestones and gold like the statues on the roof of the Palais Garnier or the Alexandre III bridge that the sun catches all of a sudden, leading an old Russian woman to close her umbrella with a smile.