Véronique Gens, Chantal Santon Jeffery, Étienne Dupuis, Nicole Car, Eric Huchet; Munich Radio Orchestra/Stefan Blunier
BruZane BZ1044 77:03 mins
For once that much-abused adjective, ‘charm’, is the right one. And like most charming stories André Messager’s Passionnément, a comédie musicale written in the 1920s when the composer was 73, has a moral sting in its tale. William Stevenson, the Prohibitionist American oil baron who sails across the Atlantic to rob a young Frenchman, Robert, of his inheritance loses his wife and is transformed into a human being by the power of champagne.
Maurice Hennequin’s book never springs a leak, Albert Willemetz’s lyrics are sunny, breezy and saucy, and Messager’s score is a minor masterpiece. His gifts as an orchestrator are evident from the start in a short overture, then in elegant solos for flute and violin and the waltzes that slip through so many of the numbers. As ever he has an unfailing ear for a melody: who could resist the couplets ‘Ah ! Madame, j’ai comme un pressentiment’ for Helen, Robert’s discarded mistress; and Robert’s declaration of love for the woman he doesn’t yet know is Stevenson’s wife is overwhelmed by tendresse.
It’s a luxury cast with Véronique Gens as Ketty, the actress who has abandoned the stage for marriage, and Nicole Car in fine voice as the maid Julia. Étienne Dupuis as Robert is an ardent lover, and Chantal Santon Jeffery’s Hélène is a past-mistress at throwing vocal tantrums. Stefan Blunier conducting the Munich Radio Orchestra has clearly lost his heart to Messager’s music.