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Review of the 1889 production from The Times
 
Tuesday, September 17, 1889
AVENUE THEATRE

Of the two pieces from the pen of the great musical caricaturist of the late French Empire which saw the light almost simultaneously at the close of 1869 – La Princesse de Trébizonde, at the Bouffes-Parisiennes on December 7, and Les Brigands, three days later, at the Variétés – the latter undoubtedly proved less attractive to the Parisian public. The critic of the Débats, who vouchsafed a brief but eulogistic reference to the brilliant follies of the Princesse de Trébizonde, passes over in silence the vagaries of Falsacappa’s falsa legatio. The cast, though Hortense Schneider’s name was conspicuously absent, included such favourites as Dupuis, Aimée, and Zulma Bouffar. Contemporary critics fall foul of both libretto and music. They complain that the composer put everything into the score, down to the carabiniers’ boots; they declare that it was only by the means of the carbine shots that any applause could be elicited for Fiorella’s couplets; they complain of the composer’s eternal polka measure, and single out the canon in the second act, “Soyez pitoyables,” as the only piece of musical merit in the whole opera. In fine, Les Brigands was not one of Offenbach’s successes.

But even if it does not show him at his best, it still manifests his incontestable superiority over all other competitors in the field of musical burlesque. Les Brigands is full of witty cynical music. Distinction there is none in Offenbach’s melodies, but their vulgarity is infectious and irresistible, and the success that has attended the present revival in the provinces seems a sufficient guarantee that Les Brigands will prove acceptable to metropolitan audiences.

Of last night’s performance at the Avenue the most that can be said is that a rough efficiency was maintained throughout. Mr. Hallen Mostyn was histrionically adequate to the rôle of Falscappa, but seldom deviated into tune. The efforts of Mdlle. Agnes Delaporte and Miss Marie Luella, as Fiorella and the Princess of Grenada respectively, met with the approbation of a sparse but appreciative audience. Mr. Lingard was a genial representative of Pietro, and in the small part of the treasurer Mr. Wilkinson caused much amusement by his dry humour. As Fragoletto Mr. Frank Wensley sang pleasantly and with a tunefulness that was in pleasant contrast to most of the company. Two or three vocal numbers were omitted, but as a set off a tarantella – gracefully danced by Miss Marion – was interpolated in the last act.

Mr. W. S. Gilbert’s excellent adaptation of MM. Meilhac and Halévy’s witty libretto was, with one or two venial divergences, loyally adhered to by all the members of the company. It is curious, however, to note how the false accents in the original – due, as M. de Saint-Saëns (sic) has pointed out, to Offenbach’s imperfect appreciation of French – have been reproduced in the English version.


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