LABELS: FRA Musica
PERFORMER: Julie Fuchs, Jean-François Lapointe, Julien Behr, Eva Ganizate, Ronan Debois, Cécile Achille, Jean-Claude Sarragosse, Guillemette Laurens, Jérôme Deschamps, Agnès Terrier; Accentus; Orchestre Opéra de Toulon/Laurence Equilbey; dir. Michel Fau (Paris, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: FRA 009
Premiered in 1923, and an instant classic of the lighter French tradition, Reynaldo Hahn’s operetta consciously references its predecessors, with a setting in Paris and the countryside in 1867 – the heyday of Jacques Offenbach. Revived at the Opéra Comique in 2013, Michel Fau’s respectful production manages simultaneously to exude plenty of theatrical life. Fau perhaps interposes himself a little too much by playing in drag the comic role of the Comtesse de Castiglione, and inviting the Parisian theatre’s manager, Jérôme Deschamps, to join him on stage as an opera director of the period, but these are minor points in a staging that succeeds in combining nostalgia with wit and style.
Admittedly the plot is inconsequential and improbable to a degree: Les Halles vegetable seller Ciboulette hooks up with nice-but-dim aristocrat Antonin, in the process depriving courtesan Zénobie of one of her admirers. The course of love never running smooth, Ciboulette finally has to become a mock-Spanish diva to win her man permanently.
Best to concentrate on the music, which is almost always charming and regularly inventive, and here in the careful hands of Laurence Equilbey, conducting her choir Accentus plus an orchestra bussed in from the Toulon Opéra. The cast is nigh-on impeccable, with tenor Julien Behr offering plenty of juvenile lead panache as Antonin, soprano Eva Ganizate a spitfire of a Zénobie, baritone Jean-François Lapointe amiable as Ciboulette’s supportive friend Duparquet and violin Julie Fuchs an authentic star in the title role. A series of interviews with members of the cast and other creatives makes a worthwhile bonus.