'La Belle Helene' is surely one of Offenbach's very best operettas - very witty libretto and some really excellent music. Laurent Pelly mixes the ancient Greek setting of the story with modern day Greece (tourism, ancient ruins and seaside holidays) and all within the dreams of a middle aged housewife who wants to be the most beautiful, desired woman in the world. Its gloriously silly and works incredibly well. If I feel in need of cheering up, this production does it for me - I have a smile on my face from beginning to end and frequently laugh out loud at some of the more lunatic ideas! Everything is brilliant - the arrival of the Kings on luggage trolleys, Menelaus off on a BA flight to Crete, Nauplia as modern day Corfu beach resort - but the standout scene for me is the heavenly second act duet for Helene and Paris where they are joined by dancers dressed as sheep! Trust me - its inspired!
Felicity Lott is without a doubt the shining star of this production. Her voice is still wonderful and she acts the part to perfection, a consumate comic performance - the invocation to Venus is a real highlight. Her co-stars are equally great though. Yann Beuron oozes self confidence as handsome young Paris as well as displaying an agile, smooth tenor (both his 'Mount Ida' and crazy yodelling arias are superb). Veteran tenor Michel Senechal is perfect as hapless, hen-pecked Menelaus, Laurent Naouri looks every inch the Greek king as Agamemnon and Marie Ange Todorovich is a charming yet dissolute Orestes. Conductor Marc Minkowski races through the finale ensembles but can be mellow where necessary (the aforementioned duet for example). The dancers are excellent and used just right I think - the 'swimming' dance that opens Act 3 is very clever and brilliantly done.
I can't recommend this performance enough. If you have a sense of humour and enjoy Offenbach's catchy, sometimes silly but sometimes sensuous music then this is a must-see!