Marriage by Lantern-Light

Orpheus in the Underworld having just had an outing in Sheffield, there is more Offenbach on offer at St Mark’s Church, Broomhill on Saturday, the 30th of April: Le Mariage aux Lanternes, or The Marriage by Lantern-Light.

What? You’ve never heard of it?

You are not alone; very few people anywhere will be aware of it among the 100-odd stage works, around half in one act, Offenbach had to his name when he died at the age of 61.

The extremely rare opportunity to encounter the lantern-light wedding comes courtesy of the enterprising Opera on Location in the wake of its brief, but ingenious Barber/ Menotti double bill in last October and Mozart’s Impresario a few months earlier.

Le Mariage, a one-act opérette (operetta), appeared in 1857 almost exactly one year before Orpheus, effectively Offenbach’s first work that wasn’t in one act. It premiered in Paris and can be described as popular in its day.

Berlin and Vienna saw it the following year; Prague, Graz and Budapest in 1859; London, New York, Brussels and Stockholm in 1860; Moscow in 1871; and Milan in 1875. After a handful of early 20th century revivals, though, it dropped off the radar.

Unlike the buffoonery and burlesque found in many the composer’s opéra bouffe and opérette bouffe, The Marriage by Lantern-Light is more sentimental and idyllic in mood, although certainly not without the humour and irony which were Offenbach trademarks.

It runs for around 50 minutes and tells the tale of a young farmer, Guillot, who has been entrusted to look after an orphan cousin, Denise, by his uncle. He treats her off-handedly to hide his feelings for her. Both write to the uncle, she in misery, he asking for money.

Two widows poke fun at Guillot, but when he receives a reply from his uncle telling him about treasure that can be found under a great tree when the bells of the church peal for the evening Angélus, they fight with each other to gain his affection.

Evening comes and Guillot – with ‘audience!’ – enters with lantern and spade to find the treasure – which surprises everyone!

Needless to say, Offenbach’s music is delightful and Opera on Location partner the work with a much better known piece, Gilbert and Sullivan’s first big hit, Trial by Jury – a natural bed-fellow given Offenbach’s influence on Sullivan.

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