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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Where’s our carriage?

Kyiv Operetta Theater stages new version of Emmerich Kalman’s <I>The Violet of Montmartre</I>
8 July, 2008 - 00:00

Emmerich Kalman’s The Violet of Montmartre (Das Veilchen vom Montmartre) stands out from the rest of his works. The dialogue of this piece of light opera is somewhat dull and the operetta was not exactly popular with audiences, although music critics called it the operetta version of Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boheme . Kalman, a Hungarian composer, once admitted, “I know that half a page of a Liszt score will overshadow all my operettas.”

The Kyiv version of The Violet of Montmartre was staged by a creative team consisting of stage director Serhii Smiian, conductor Oksana Madarash, ballet master Oleksandr Sehal, set designer Stanislav Petrovsky, costume designer Natalia Kucheria, and Oleksandr Korsh, who composed the music to the ballet divertissement.

Critics call Smiian a “legendary figure in the world of operetta art,” and he has staged plays in numerous theaters in Ukraine. But this is the first time that he has staged The Violet of Montmartre . He revised the libretto, leaving the basic plot intact but moving the characters from an attic setting to a fairy-tale carriage in a little Paris courtyard. From time to time, the penniless romantics are evicted for not paying the rent, and they ultimately find refuge in the carriage.

Smiian tries to turn each of his productions into a brilliant extravaganza. He believes that the theater must amaze the spectator. To make the action more dynamic, he invented a magical carriage house, and in the carnival scene audiences were amazed by the backcloth that was designed in the shape of a huge clown. Climbing upwards, his huge hands seemed to embrace the characters on stage.

Smiian also got involved in the music score, with help from the conductor Oksana Madarash. He reset some numbers, while the addition of spectacular dances boosted the production’s charm. Ballet master Oleksandr Sehal, 89, once again confirmed his brilliant individuality and longevity in art. He taught the dancers a number of intricate steps that reflect his indefatigability and imagination. The brilliantly colored costumes made the ballet more spectacular and added passion to the lyrical and romantic plot.

It is also noteworthy that both the director and the choreographer, who have amassed great experience in staging Kalman operettas, created a dancing divertissement set to jazz music, and the orchestra soloist Oleksandr Korsh produced an interesting arrangement while preserving the “ideal wisdom” of the operetta form.

Smiian managed to turn a boring play into a real extravaganza, and his innovations ended up improving The Violet of Montmartre . The result is a poetic, ironic, and touching operetta. While seeking to keep the tradition intact, the director nevertheless prefers the fashionable avant- garde to quality classics. The secret of this production’s success is simple: Smiian followed the composer, at the same time improvising on the theme created by Kalman.

Throughout his theatrical career, Smiian has honed his trademark methods for staging operettas, such as the gradual unfolding of the plot and scenic action, which logically leads to a breathtaking climax. In The Violet of Montmartre Smiian remained true to himself. In Act Two he added some oomph in the form of bottles of iced champagne, whose corks pop in a veritable salvo at the right moment. The production has no dragged-out scenes and the culmination of the operetta is the song “Carambolina.”

The actors are a mix of young artists and operetta celebrities. Valentyn Rozhkov (as Leblanc), Serhii Melnychenko and Mykola Butkovsky (as Francois in different shows), Serhii Naumov (as Parigi), and Valentyna Donchenko (as Arnaud) were as natural as could be. While audiences know Oleksandr Trofymchuk (Frascati) as an actor who plays ladies’ men, this time they saw him perform as a brilliant comic. His acting, a pearl in the operetta’s crown, was warmly received by the audience. The superb company of actors, which also included Tamara Kalinkina (Ninon), Iryna Bezpalova- Prymak (Violetta), Volodymyr Odrynsky (Raoul), Arsen Prymak (Henri), and Roman Moroz (Marcel), displayed great energy, ardor, and mastery.