The opera comique has recently presented Violeta Cruz’s The Light Princess, performed by Jeanne Crousaud, Majdouline Zerari, Jean-Jacques L’ Anthöen, Nicholas Merryweather, Guy-Loup Boisneau and Kate Colebrook
Featured here as part of My First Opera Festival, The Light Princess by Violeta Cruz, premiered on the 13th of December 2017 at the Opera of Lille, tells the singular story of a princess who lacks gravity.
Based on Georges MacDonald’s novel, Gilles Rico’s libretto addresses the transition from childhood to adulthood on the typical model of fairy tales, the protagonist being a gentle princess victim of a wicked witch.
After a carefree but out of the ordinary childhood and adolescence, it is by meeting true love that she will discover how to recover.
A journey through fairy tales
Relentless, high-pitched, laughter: this is how the light and light-hearted princess is presented to us. Her body, like her mind, swings in the air while all the people around her do their best not to let her fly away.
Very concerned, her parents call upon doctors, whose verdict is that she needs to “cry”. Only… she’s unable to cry!
One day, while cruising on a lake by boat, she falls into the water and discovers that in this particular element she has gravity. So she gets a taste for swimming regularly. One summer night, a Prince sees her and falls in love with her, who remains indifferent, but agrees to meet him there every night.
Jealous, the witch Folerpès drains the lake.
Very discouraged, the Princess locks herself in her room, but the Prince does not give up and by pretending to be a shoe shiner, manages to see her again.
One day he discovers that by drowning in the lake, he could break the witch’s spell and chooses to sacrifice himself to save his beloved one. When the Princess sees him die, she cries for the first time. Her tears bring the Prince back to life and allow the young girl to regain her gravity.
Violeta Cruz’s sound leitmotive
Between unusual instruments (chains to tap on the bass drum, plastic cards to hit and rub strings, a hammer and its anvil and even a “laughing stick”), the exploration of other musical genres and the use of electronics, the sound universe imagined by Violeta Cruz, Jos Houben and Emily Wilson is extremely impressive.
The score mimics with realism the child’s laughter or the streaming of water, translates into music the moods of the characters, perfectly matching the words of the libretto, such as the anxious quest for the princess, where the spoken voices merge into an amusing cacophony, or the very powerful effect of the decreasing pace of the phrase “No more water, no more rain, no more streams, no more life”.
With lots of humour and a few hints at Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the staging of Jos Houben and Emily Wilson captivates us, thanks also to the futuristic and poetic costumes of Oria Puppo and her scenery.
We will remark the “sound objects” such as the rocking floor, responding to the motion of the people rising on it, or the turnstiles, both static screens and dynamic objects, opening up and grinding on certain sounds.
Nicolas Simonin’s intelligent lighting effects enhances the different scenes and time and place changes.
Committed and convincing artists
With her head (and body) in the air, Jeanne Crousaud offers us an adorable Princess (and a nanny) whose colorful voice flies high up, along with her alter ego (the violinist Alexandra Greffin-Klein).
Nicholas Merryweather is an elegant and amusing King, especially in the air “I’m leaving, I’m going out” where he goes to see his sister, the witch, to ask her to release his daughter, but he’s tetanised by fear: “I’m going to see my fear… my sister”. We see him trying to move forward, reluctantly, while a compelling walking bass at the orchestra mocks him.
Majdouline Zerari embodies a Queen with a dense and solid voice, very eloquent in the duet with the King, where the rocking movement of the stage accentuates their tumultuous discussion. Their costumes, poetic and modern at the same time, are complemented by cities sculpures as crowns, recalling the paintings of the 12th century altarpieces.
Jean-Jacques L’ Anthöen, who comes back to the Opéra comique after Le mystère de l’écureuil bleu, knows how to be a lively narrator, thanks also to the presence of Guy-Loup Boisneau, ready to emphasize irony by mimicking the opposite of his words.
The Prince de L’ Anthöen, who naturally blends French, Italian and English, is charming and seductive, as is Jean-Etienne Sotty’s accordion, which accompanies him throughout.
Kate Colebrook (Doctor Déjanthé) and Guy-Loup Boisneau (Doctor Malofoi) are two hilarious square-headed doctors who have fun explaining the princess’ condition in an incomprehensible terminology — imagined by Violeta Cruz with the help of a real doctor.
As the princess’s silent alter-ego, Colebrook contributes to the “magic” by handling her shoes and simulating her levitation, or by preventing her from taking off, gently holding her with coloured “straps”.
A remarkable antagonist
The undeniable protagonist of the evening is Guy-Loup Boisneau’s witch.
Scary and grotesque at the same time, we are completely overwhelmed by the antagonist, with her scandalous movements, her voice, her facial expressions and the sound universe that surrounds her.
Guy-Loup Boisneau’s costume includes “sound accessories” that he handles very easily. There is a pendulum ball that controls gravity, which is actually a sensor connected to a computer producing amplified and spatialised sounds, and a threatening stick that, in contact with the ground, creates very disturbing friction noises.
Violeta Cruz thus creates a true sonorous leitmotiv, which provides a striking villain that Hitchcock, the master of suspense for whom “the more successful the villain, the more successful the film”, would certainly have approved.