THE UPPER CRUST VERSUS the underground, totalitarianism versus anarchy and love against all odds, Starmania is the story of a dystopian society where the power struggles of politics, fame and desire compete and a night at the disco changes everything. Credited as the first French-language rock opera, lyricist Luc Plamondon and composer Michel Berger’s 1979 musical work is an allegory whose societal critiques are as pertinent today as ever. And now it is being done as an actual opera, fulfilling the late Berger’s dream.
The story pits Zéro Janvier (Marc Hervieux), a billionaire businessman vying for the presidency of the newly united Western World, against sworn enemy Johnny Rockfort (Etienne Dupuis), leader of the Black Stars, a gang that terrorizes the capital city of Monopolis. Sadia (Krista da Silva) is a cross-dressing agent provocateur who has turned her back on her high society roots and holds influence over Johnny. Cristal (Raphaëlle Paquette), host of the television show Starmania, interviews and falls in love with Johnny, thus severing Sadia’s hold. Stella Spotlight (Lyne Fortin), a famous actress at the end of her career, is pursued by Janvier for her hand in marriage. Marie-Jeanne (Marie-Josée Lord), the robot waitress of the Underground Café where much of the action takes place, is hopelessly in love with Ziggy (Pascal Charbonneau), a wannabe rock singer.
As expected, the staging is spectacular. Although there are minimal props, excellent use is made of pictorial projections on mobile hanging sheets, showcasing the varying landscapes of the city, the underground café and the breaking news bulletins of Roger Roger (James Hyndman). Even when the background is displaying dynamic images reminiscent of a Geiss screensaver, e.g. during “Le blues du businessman,” it works nevertheless. The direct lighting of both the performers and the set is also well implemented, with monochromatic colour schemes of red, blue and yellow used to highlight differences in theme and character. Watching this show on mute would be a beautiful experience in its own right.
On the other hand, the dancing doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Frenetic and jerky, dancers often throw themselves in a dramatic fashion at tables, bars and each other. There is a mixture of poorly executed break dancing and ballet in the midst of some adept modern dance. The lack of finesse may be the point since the dancers are underground gang members, but the choreography lacks cohesion as a fusion style.
A rock opera this version is not. Apart from a mention of David Bowie, the audience should not expect much from the rock genre, with a full symphonic orchestra behind the music. There are, however, some noticeable musical theatre elements to be found. Numbers such as “Ego Trip” are quite theatrical and the physical performances of the leads are more prominent than one might expect from an opera, especially in the second half.
Starmania took to the stage for the first time in 1979 at the Palais des congrès de Paris, and has been revived numerous times since. Thirty years later, its firm place in the francophone musical canon is undeniable. Dystopia prevails.
The Opéra de Montréal presents Starmania Opera at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier of Place des Arts, 175 Ste. Catherine W.
Regular run sold out through March 28, but additional performances have been added on March 19 and 20. For further information, call 514-842-2112 or go to www.laplacedesarts.com or http://www.operademontreal.com/