Offenbach. La belle Hélène. Helikon-opera (Moscow)

La belle Hélène, Offenbach

Libretto by Anri Meilac and Ludovic Halevy

Translation by Viktor Krylov

Stage Director - Dmitry Bertman

Music Director - Vladimir Ponkin

Set and Costumes - Hartmut Schörghofer (Austria)

Light Designer - Damir Ismagilov

Choreographer - Edwald Smirnov

Choirmaster - Eugene Ilin

La belle Hélène – is the 52nd operetta of Jacques Offenbach. It was first performed at the Paris's Theater des Variétés on December 17, 1864. Searching for the new subject for his operetta, Offenbach appealed to Homer’s Iliad. Originally, libretto was written under the title of Taking Troy . Big performance witty parodied modes of the serious operas. The content of it, transparently veiled by the ancient plot, was the sharp satiric to the modern life. Not coincidently, in one of the first productions of La belle Hélène in Wien, with a tacit approval of composer, Menelas had moustache and looked like Napoleon III, and Helene had a makeup of Eugenia Montijo. Offenbach described his La belle Hélène as opera bouffe. The musical dramaturgy plays a defining role in it. Performance is moved ahead according to the rules of comic opera, which, traditionally, includes dialogues. Except for the couplets, which are common for an operetta, there are many ensembles, choruses, arias, big musical finals, built like the finales of Italian comic operas (for example The Barber of Seville).

Offenbach knew many ways how to achieve a success; one of them is to shift to the new way the well-known story. Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy cultivated the plot about Paris’s kidnapping Helene. Excavations of Troy riveted all worlds’ attention to Helene, Paris and Menelas, had not started yet; Heinrich Schliemann would soon make a revolution in archeology and history, at that time was a Russian citizen... 

In Saint-Peterburg La belle Hélène for the first time was performed by French troupe on the stage of Mikhailovsky Theater. In the year of 1868 Offenbach’s heroes started to sing in Russian on the stage of Mariinsky, in the translation of Victor Krylov. The leading part was performed by Vera Liadova, the ballerina form the troupe of the Imperial Theater. After that there were many different translations and text versions, referring to the political situation of the time: A.Argo, V.Shershnevich, N.Erdman, B.Racer, M.Galperin.

During the whole scenic history La belle Hélène was interpreted in different styles, time frames, but it luckily stays timeless.

Dmitry Bertman about La belle Hélène:

In western-european operas the kings only suffer and doing nothing as a rule. The opera director is the only one who can make these characters work hard. The Greek kings in our Offenbach operetta sing, play and have fun just on the eve of the Troyan War...

The production La Belle Helene was on stage of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theater for thirty years before and long after I was born. I still have the most warm and tender memories about this production. Now Helene is not in the repertoire of an any Moscow theatre. Our version is the authors's edition, which is a rare thing in modern staging, as since its creation the Offenbach's music went through a number of different orchestra versions. Operetta is under the pressure of opera and musical from both sides, that is why I have decided to give La belle Hélène the shelter at our temporary home in the Arbat Street. Frankly speaking, I do hope very much that with this production we would farewell this stage and our next premiere would happen in our sweet home in the Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street. 

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