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Why local am-dram club ETCetera is staging an Offenbach operetta on the advice of Sir Tim Rice

18:54 02/06/2023

Great advice from an old school friend is one thing but when it comes from one of the best known lyricists in the world, it simply can’t be ignored.

Sir Tim Rice, supreme wordsmith behind hit musical shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Chess, Aladdin, The Lion King and many more, was the inspiration behind a forthcoming operetta being staged in Belgium.

The European Theatre Club ETCetera’s new production La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein is being performed at the end of June in Jezus-Eik. Described as amusing, satirical and joyous, it was originally composed with a text in French by Jacques Offenbach and premiered on the Paris stage in 1867.

It’s said to be a personal favourite of Sir Tim, and during a catch up with Peter Willis – one year his junior at Lancing College – he strongly advised him to look no further than La Duchesse for his next production.

Willis told the Bulletin: “I remembered Tim from school and had a chat with him at the funeral of one of our old teachers. He remains not at all pompous and likes to support people in the business. When I told him I was from ETCetera, he told me that we should choose La Grande Duchesse for our next show. Somewhat cheekily I asked him if he would create a new version of the French dialogue in English.”

The famed lyricist’s offer heavy work schedule prevented him from taking on the task. So fellow theatre members helped Willis carefully translate and update the spoken text in English, and provide French, Dutch and English surtitles for international audiences.

“I was unfamiliar with the operetta, but it was a great choice by Sir Tim and it was advice I couldn’t ignore. He did write back to me after we met up, offering his full support for the production,” said Willis.

La Grande Duchesse is safe in the hands of musical arranger Steven De Mesmaeker. More than 25 people will make up the ensemble cast, fronted by talented international principals providing the varying vocal ranges. They include Helena Skarfors, Paul Gosme, Constance Loupan, Pieter Goossens, Josephine Draycott, Matt Carver and Jean Luc Wietor.

Andy Fisk, fresh from his success at the helm of Brussels Light Opera’s recent rendition of Chess, is stage director. “I was really pleased to be asked to direct this operetta. It was the opportunity to do something completely different and we have all rehearsed so hard to get it right,” he said.

The opera is set in the fictional duchy of Gerolstein in 1720. The story begins with the 20-year-old duchess betrothed to Prince Paul, for whom unfortunately she feels no attraction. Her guardian, Baron Puck, generates a war to amuse her. The duchess finds herself falling in love with young soldier Fritz, who in turn has his eyes set on Wanda. A complicated love life ensues for the main characters amid the backdrop of battles. No spoilers here, but ETCetera promises audiences will leave happy.

The theatre club was established in 2009 by Willis and Teresa Perez-Roca to stage plays, operas and musicals for an international audience and to provide the opportunity for different nationalities to participate in shows. Since its inception, it has staged more than 30 productions, including Our Man in Havana, An Inspector Calls, Figaro Gets Divorced, Becket and Mr Choufleury.

La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein
22 to 25 June
De Bosuil Cultural Center
Witherendreef 1
Jezus-Eik (Overijse)


Written by Kim Revill