Every synopsis available for La Double Coquette promises an opera about a double-crossing cross dresser who plans to reclaim her lover from his new flame. I went into La Double slightly befuddled by the premise — did the cross dresser’s lover know she was a woman? Or did he think she was a man?
Perhaps no one else gets wrapped up in performance previews, but if you’re like me, you can now rest assured: Florise, a.k.a. Dariman, is not actually a cross dresser. She’s just a desperate woman who dresses as a man to deceive her lover, Damon’s, new girlfriend, Clarice. I’ve dressed as a man for a costume, but I wouldn’t call myself a cross dresser ... you get the point.
On to the performance. The voices of Clarice (Mails de Villoutreys), the gal you see in press photos wearing that insanely gorgeous and bizarre feather/snake/human organ-like attire, and of Florise (Isabelle Poulenard), are incredible. I almost wish the show featured them sans Damon (Robert Getchell), but that would kinda defeat the purpose of the love triangle. While Damon’s voice is by no means bad (he’s in a world-traveling opera, he’s got chops), he often gets drowned out by the women. Maybe that’s the point.
The performers sang in French, noting each word or emotion with hand gestures and facial expressions. Unfortunately, you could not focus on the performers and read the English supertitles at the same time. Trust me, my neck is still sore from attempting to do so. Words projected behind the onstage ensemble — the stunning sounds of the Amarillis ensemble were enough to make me forget about my neck pain — would have been more fitting, but I’m not a set designer. Perhaps they would have detracted from the performance. Perhaps I should brush up on my French (sorry Madame Coogan, those lessons never stuck).
Besides their placement, the English supertitles were also a little confusing. As CP’s trusty editor, Chris Haire, said to me after the show, “I think we missed some of the jokes.” I would argue that the essence of any foreign language performance cannot be entirely translated, but some of the phrases were clunky and repetitive, and I wonder if a second eye on the translation could have made it more palatable to Spoleto viewers.
By far my favorite aspect of the performance was its message — a fun and freaky homage to love (and also lust) of all kinds. There may even be a feminist message somewhere in there, but I don’t think I could put it into a sensible English sentence.
I won’t tell you how the performance ends, but it strays from the original “happy ending” of Charles Simon-Favart’s libretto. The costumes are fun, the voices are impeccable, and the music does just what I had hoped it would (and what composer Gerard Pesson aimed to do) — it seamlessly combines elements of the 18th and 21st century.
So, Spoleto-goers, grab a neck pillow and head to the Dock Street Theatre. Go for Florise’s hilarious cross-dressing attire — she wears a man’s suit and holds a faux mustache in front of her face, and voila! — and stay for Clarice’s feather skirt. There’s something truly titillating about a talented opera singer gyrating over another, shaking her tail feathers as she hits high notes. A true coquette, I suppose.