Ô mon bel inconnu (DVD)
Véronique Gens, Éléonore Pancrazi, Olivia Doray, Thomas Dolié, Carl Ghazarossian, Jean-Christophe Lanièce; Orchestre National Avignon-Provence/Samuel Jean
BruZane BZ 1043 59:07 mins
Is Ô mon bel inconnu a musical, a comédie en musique, even an operetta? This 1930s Parisian confection defies tidy classification – just like the pair of unlikely collaborators who created it, Sacha Guitry and Reynaldo Hahn: a writer/performer who delighted in outrageous puns and dizzying plotlines, and a composer who cherished clarity.
However, opposites appear to have attracted most successfully. Once again, Hahn found a way of setting what Guitry freely confessed were awkward and irregular verses. And he takes the great boulevardier’s almost surreal plot about a family who run a hat shop while dreaming of romantic encounters beyond their corseted bourgeois lives without blinking. (Although Guitry’s dialogue is not recorded it’s printed in the accompanying booklet.)
Hahn’s score for a modest physical ensemble – strings, a flute, a pair of clarinets, bassoon, saxophone, piano and a single percussionist – is more than the sum of its parts with vestigial waltzes drifting through the musical numbers. And when you listen to the Act II trio ‘Ô mon bel inconnu’ who can doubt this composer’s gift for melody?
Véronique Gens is irresistible as Antoinette, the mistress of the house, while Thomas Dolié as her husband Prosper, who drives the plot, mixes social outrage, cunning and lust in equal measure. Éléonore Pancrazi’s maid Félicie is suitably insubordinate, and the daughter elegantly sung by Olivia Doray is much more than the usual soubrette. Best of all Samuel Jean conducting members of the Orchestre Nationale Avignon-Provence clearly believes in every note of Hahn’s score.