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Kaleidoscopic steampunk 'L’Etoile' presented at Musical Arts Center



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Darian Clonts, Anna Farley and Jeremy Weiss pose as Tiffany Choe stands on suitcases to sing in "L'étoile." The opera will play at the Musical Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21. Marlie Bruns Buy Photos

Aviator goggles, zeppelins and gold-pink glitter jackets were some of the staged elements of French opera “L’Etoile", which premiered at the Musical Arts Center on Oct.13.

“L’Etoile” will continue to run until Oct. 21.

The operetta tells the story of King Ouf as he prepares to perform his annual birthday execution, only to realize the peddler he’s chosen for death is astrologically linked to himself, so that if the peddler dies, the king dies too.

“It’s a fanciful farce,” said Vincent Festa, the singer playing King Ouf. “It’s very witty and very French.”

King Ouf, disguised as a common man, goes out and tries to trick his subjects into saying something treasonous in an attempt to secure a victim. Problems arise when everyone is too loyal. 

When he finally finds a victim, he introduces them to an execution device, which resembles the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s subtle at times, it’s very in your face sometimes,” Festa said. “Our staging has very choreographed moments that add to the humor of everything.”

While the show’s music is sung in French, scenes pass in between with spoken dialogue in English. The dialogue helps move the plot and characters in ways similar to traditional theater, which is an atypical style in operas.

“You really get the feeling of a musical,” stage director Alain Gauthier said.

This isn’t Gauthier’s first time producing “L’Etoile.” In the past, he’s been stage director for the show's productions in Montreal; New York City; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Austin, Texas. For this production, Gauthier said he was inspired by the Industrial Revolution and Victorian fashion. 

After the set was designed and costumes made to replicate those aesthetics, he said that wasn’t enough.

“I liked it very much, but we needed to find something crazy about this,” Gauthier said. “We ended up having the same setup, but now everything is pink.”

The stage floor is blue with a bright pink upper level and supports. King Ouf himself wears white face paint with red splotches on his cheeks, golden tights and golden shoes with bow ties on them. Other characters wear aviator goggles, top hats and dusters, all in a vibrant color palette.

“It’s a good mix of technology of a different time, imagination and futurism, but at the same time it's the 19th century, Victorian kind of fashion,” Gauthier said.

Written in 1877, the music to “L’Etoile” is is often a source of humor. When the peddler is sentenced to execution by the King, the music becomes amused and pleasant, reflecting the King’s delight.

“This music is very light and very punchy,” Gauthier said.

The opening piece is graceful and airy, reflecting the pronounced, regal setting the show focuses on. The melodies take turns between the wind and string sections.

“There are moments where it's just so beautiful, and other ones that are just very loud and in your face and great,” Festa said.

Whether viewers come for the music, humor or experience of the staged elements, this style of French opera is quite unusual for Bloomington, Gauthier said.

“This type of French opera I don’t think has been seen very much in Bloomington,” Gauthier said. “It’s a very fresh gain for the artistic community.”

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