Offenbach both celebrates and satirizes their lifestyle. Their entanglements with two Danish characters, the Baron and Baroness Gondremarck, show aspects of the city’s growing international appeal. The Baroness seeks cultural thrills; the Baron is more interested in becoming acquainted with the aforementioned demimondaines.
“La Vie Parisienne” is the directing debut of Lacroix, the designer, whom the playbill describes as a “born nostalgic.” Over the past four decades, he has created costumes for a long list of operas, ballets and plays, often drawing on original sources. A keen historian, he looked to period fashion as well as to some of the 1866 designs for “La Vie Parisienne’s” premiere, and the result is luxurious.
For lovers of Offenbach, there is an additional thrill. With the help of researchers from the Palazzetto Bru Zane, a Venice-based music center, the production restores portions of the score that were cut because the original cast protested their difficulty. The five acts (rather than the usual four), conducted with joyful vigor by Romain Dumas, fly by, and an ensemble of dancers and acrobats make a welcome contemporary addition to the proceedings.
Yet “La Vie Parisienne” and “Cole Porter in Paris” both feel like extensions of a similar script. Paris, we are told, is synonymous with sexual freedom. Porter’s homosexuality and his relationship with the Russian poet Boris Kochno are strong features of “Cole Porter in Paris,” while the newly revived fifth act of “La Vie Parisienne” waxes lyrical about its setting, a cafe known for providing very discreet salons for its clients.
It’s an appealing myth, which has left many in France unwilling to examine to whom, and how, that freedom actually applied. It was largely limited to a small, well-to-do subset of the population. And if Paris is the city of hedonistic romance, the argument goes, why regulate office affairs or tamp down on harassment today? “Trying to steal a kiss, or speaking about ‘intimate’ things at a work dinner” — isn’t it part of French culture, as Catherine Deneuve and others implied in an open letter in the wake of the #MeToo movement?