Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène is a hit with FOQ audience

Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Dominic Veilleux (Agamemnon), David Turcotte (Calchas), Maude Côté-Gendron (Hélène), pianist Bryce Lansdell, Mathieu Abel (Pâris), Charlotte Gagnon (Oreste) and Richard-Nicolas Villeneuve (Ménélas) take a bow at the end of their performance of La Belle Hélène.

The Festival d’Opéra de Québec (FOQ) teamed up again this year with Jeunesses Musicales Canada to present Jacques Offenbach’s comic operetta La Belle Hélène at the Théâtre La Bordée. French and English surtitles helped the audience keep track of the complicated plot.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: the goddess Venus promises Pâris the love of Hélène, the beautiful queen of Sparta, despite her being married to King Ménélas. This famous opéra bouffe in three acts tells the story of Pâris’ ridiculous schemes to win Hélène’s love and her halfhearted attempts to elude the handsome prince’s advances. A cast comprising some of Canada’s finest young operatic talents brought this chaotic, uproarious, witty production to life.

Maude Côté-Gendron, as Hélène, ably fills the only female role in this Spartan romp, although Charlotte Gagnon portrays Oreste, the young son of King Agamemnon. Gagnon’s gender-bending portrayal of Oreste is quite hilarious, sporting a fake moustache and acting like a typical spoiled teenager.

Mathieu Abel, as Pâris, son of King Priam, disguises himself as a shepherd and tries to woo Hélène. David Turcotte is Calchas, the high priest of Jupiter, Dominic Veilleux is King Agamemnon and Richard-Nicolas Villeneuve is King Ménélas, the hen-pecked husband of the beautiful Hélène.

Acts I and II take place at the palace of King Ménélas in Sparta. Act III takes place on a “beach” in Naples. Pâris arrives, this time disguised as the high priest of Venus, and with the help of Calchas and Oreste, he manages to convince Ménélas to let Hélène sail away with him on his galley.

Interestingly, all the male characters in this production wore pleated Greek robes, tunics or kilts, and Hélène wore a pair of trousers. Who was wearing the “pants” in that marriage?

There was no orchestra for this operetta, only a pianist, Bryce Lansdell, who played at stage right and sometimes took an active part in the action. All in all, it was a delightful, well-performed production.