Defoe’s classic kidnapped by panto pirates in Offenbach’s Robinson Crusoe
07 March, 2019 — By Michael White
The Royal College of Music performs Offenbach’s opera to mark the composer’s 200th birthday
AH me hearties… There’s a long, swashbuckling history of operas set at sea, and some of them are deadly serious (thinking especially of Britten’s Billy Budd which will be coming up at Covent Garden soon and doesn’t have too many laughs).
But Offenbach’s Robinson Crusoe is a different sort of vessel. Loosely based (and I mean loosely) on the familiar story by Daniel Defoe, it turns into a jolly romp about a shipwrecked sailor and the efforts of his sweetheart to come out and rescue him – distracted though she is en route by waltzing cannibals and panto-pirates.
It’s a rarely staged piece, written for the Opera Comique, Paris, in the mid-19th century and never seen again on a professional stage until the late, lamented Camden Festival unearthed it in the 1970s.
But if you want proof that it is actually funny, there’s an old Opera Rara recording worth a listen, sung in English by veteran ENO stars like Yvonne Kenny and Alan Opie. And that might just encourage you to go to the new, student production opening next Wednesday at the Royal College of Music, South Kensington.
It’s being done to mark the 200th anniversary of Offenbach’s birth which falls this year and is worth taking note of because there will be more anniversary events coming up. So many more you’ll probably have had enough of the composer by December.
Meanwhile…will the lovers find each other? And the treasure? And their way home? Find out at the RCM, where this production (by well-known director Bill Bankes-Jones) runs from March 13-18, 7pm, tickets from £10.
• Robinson Crusoe, Royal College of Music, Prince Consort Road, SW7 2BS, 020 7591 4314, www.rcm.ac.uk/