La Belle Vivette is Michael Frayn’s reworking of Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène (1864). Frayn eschews the original’s setting in Ancient Sparta in order to give his adaptation a metatheatrical twist, creating an opera about the creation of an opera in Second Empire Paris in the 1860s.
A parody of the Helen-Paris love story from classical mythology, Frayn’s operetta has the lovely Vivette as the face that launched a thousand ships. Kept under tight control by her protector (a pseudo-Menelaus), Monsieur Ploc, she nevertheless falls in love with the smitten new composer, Monsieur Berger. Secrecy, mistaken identity and chaos ensue, and the opera ends with the ‘perfect chance to start / The Franco-Prussian war!’
First performed at the English National Opera in 1995, La Belle Vivette starred Lesley Garrett and Neill Archer as Vivette and Berger.