Bizet: Le Docteur Miracle
In 1857 the 18-year-old Bizet was a joint-winner in a competition organised by Jacques Offenbach to discover talented new composers of operetta; his co-winner was Charles Lecocq, who would go on to become a master of the genre, whereas Bizet would concentrate on opera. Nevertheless, the light touch that helped him succeed with this hour-long comedy – based on Sheridan’s play St Patrick’s Day – is characteristic of Bizet’s other student works, such as his delightful Symphony in C, and even later pieces.
The libretto was written by two of Offenbach’s regular collaborators, Léon Battu and Ludovic Halévy, the latter not only author of the libretto for Offenbach’s greatest hit, Orpheus in the Underworld, but also the future co-author of the libretto for Bizet’s most celebrated opera, Carmen. The plot tells of how Captain Silvio disguises himself as an incompetent servant and then as a doctor in order to worm his way into his forbidden beloved’s father’s household. The result may not be a deathless masterpiece, but it’s witty and charming; the overture and a quartet about an inedible omelette cooked by Pasquin, the supposed servant, are particularly good.
This is a perfectly adequate performance of a piece that requires good acting skills and musicianship rather than superior voices. Soprano Marie-Bénédicte Souquet proves an accomplished soubrette as Laurette and sparks fly between her and mezzo-soprano Isabelle Druet as her argumentative stepmother, Véronique. Baritone Pierre-Yves Pruvot blusters gamely as her dyspeptic father, the Mayor, while tenor Jérôme Billy puts in three good turns as Silvio, Pasquin and Dr Miracle. Lively rather than flawless playing from the Orchestre lyrique de région Avignon Provence, and just so-so sound; but the piece is worth getting to know, while conductor Samuel Jean shows how it should go.