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The french stage

The Times – Wednesday, October 27, 1875

Paris, Oct. 26, Midnight.

To-night, at the Gaîté Theatre, Un Voyage à [1] la Lune, a féerie in four acts and 22 tableaux, was produced. It is scarcely necessary to say that the house was full, since for the last week the most obscure seat has been sought after at double its price, or that all those might be seen in the stalls who assist, at those peculiarly Parisian fêtes known as premières-journalists, politicians, foreign attachés, financiers rich enough not only to purchase their own box or stall; but also the fauteuil or baignoire of the cocottes who follow in their train at premières, without reckoning the painters and sculptors of renown, the actors and actresses not playing that night ; in short, every one who can by right of conquest or birth aspire to the precious ticket which opens the door. In fact, it is sufficient for a musical work to emanate from Offenbach’s pen for all that Paris which only lives by pleasure to precipitate itself into the theatre where the fête is prepared, and to penetrate there at the price of the greatest efforts and sacrifices. Offenbach, in fact, is the joyous symbol which has survived the mad soirées of bygone days. He is the bell of real excitement which rings above the bitterness of the last few years. Lecocq has taken a great place in the music of these latter days, but Lecocq is too careful, too measured, too distinguished to be relished by palates which have been spoilt by the spiced viands of Offenbach. Lecocq is the musician who pleases every one, the blouse and the mob. Offenbach is the musician neither of the blouse nor of the cap ; he is the musician of file gray gloves and white cravats, of the ball dresses and of the coiffures sprinkled with diamonds which shut the door and windows to dance a cancan which the police would forbid at a public place. He is the musician of respectable people when they care to be so. Therefore every time their loved musician re-appears they quiver, applaud, beam, and once more fancy themselves living in times when France had no other care than to prolong in everything the night to shorten the day.

What happens at every première of Offenbach happened again to night. His Voyage à la Lune has been suggested by the success of Round the World in 80 Days. It is one of those féeries in which the libretto occupies but little space, and in which scenery, machinery, costumes, and legs play the principal parts. A King has a son who wishes to go to the moon. An engineer makes a cannon 20 miles long, charged with a hollow ball, containing the King, the Prince, and the inventor. The cannon is pointed towards the moon and fired, and four days afterwards the ball falls in the moon. Here the problem of lunar exploration is solved. There is no need to place more reality in it than that. The scenes to which such a plot gives rise may be understood. It should, however, be said that there are several very successful morceaux in the piece, which were much applauded, especially the air of the Prince, “Je veux avoir la lune,” despite some affinity to Giroflé-Girofla. The chorus of artillerymen when loading the cannon ; the air “Je regarde,” by Mdlle. Zulma Bouffar, and the exquisite “Duo de la Pomme,” sung by the same lady and Madame Marcus ; and the overture, very well executed by the orchestra, were also very loudly applauded. It should be added that, contrary to the general run of féeries, there were several ingenious, new ideas which were successful, and which admirably surprised the public, who expected a more or less stupid libretto. It is in the second act, which passes in the moon, that the authors, MM. Mortier, Vanloo, and Leterrier have succeeded best. In the Lunar Kingdom, the King dismisses his Finance Minister because he has too much money in The Treasury. A great poet — a giant plays this part — has obtained the first prize at a competition, the King to punish him takes away one of his decorations. In the Lunar Kingdom all the inhabitants receive decorations, which are taken from them as they do some great deed. Those who have none at all are, consequently, the most distinguished. “This is a plan,” the travelling Monarch, “which would have but little success with us. In the moon Kings are obliged to work ; their palace is of glass. When they are inside their subjects watch them, and when they do nothing their subjects murmur, hence no one wishes to be King and the heaviest men is obliged to take the office. He is elected by weight ; the present King weighing 280 kilogrammes. I only escaped the crown by 35,” says his confident. Lastly, love is not known in the kingdom. Women are either useful or luxurious works of art. The useful women look after the household, and the luxurious women embellish the houses. Children come from a far-off Isle, which is obliged to supply the capital. But the Terrestrial Prince arrives and falls in love with Princess Fantasia, and it is here occurs the Apple Duet, which recalls the Biblical account of Eve and the Serpent. The Princess Fantasia likes the apple which Prince Caprice brings from Earth, and love is awakened in her. This Act is original, somewhat light, perhaps, but witty enough to excuse this failing.

The decorations are splendid ; the one representing a forge is very beautiful, as well as the forest, with light effects in the lunar kingdom. The costumes are very rich and the ballets very brilliant. The piece is, I think, a success, less great, probably, than that of Le Tour de [2] Monde en Quatre-Vingt Jours, but which will be marked. Evidently an attempt is made to follow in the steps of the Tour du Monde and to omit nothing. The elephant of the Porte St. Martin play is replaced by a live camel which bears the King of the Moon. The first Act is long and heavy, and half the dialogue, which is not spirited, should be struck out. Nevertheless, one saying is happy. When starting for the moon the terrestrial king tells his subjects that he is about to leave them. They receive the intelligence with cries of “Vive le Roi.” “It is astonishing,” says the King, “I was never so popular before.” All the Monarchical doctrines of France are summarized in this saying and scene. Real enthusiasm for kings is only felt when they leave.



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