Véronique Gens, Antoinette Dennefeld, Chantal Santon-Jeffery, Anaïs Constans, Diana Axentii, Éric Huchet, Tassis Christoyannis, François Piolino, Patrick Kabongo, Loïc Félix, Yoann Dubruque, Matthieu Lecroart et al (voices); Radio France Choir, Orchestre National de France/Markus Poschner
BruZane BZ 1039 100.40 mins (2 discs)
Maître Péronilla only managed 50 performances in 1878. A fickle public taste for Charles Lecocq’s confections probably did it for Offenbach’s rollicking story of a Spanish chocolatier with social ambitions who accidentally marries his pretty daughter to two husbands. (Of course it all ends happily when Manoëla the daughter is united with her beloved Alvarès.) Despite its disappearance from the stage, hindsight suggests that this opéra bouffe marks the beginning of the composer’s return to public favour after his glory days during the Second Empire. And if it’s not a masterpiece it’s masterly.
Offenbach deftly plays to the 19th-century French passion for all things Iberian with Spanish accents in the orchestration – hints of guitars and the obligatory castanets. Yet a waltz that undoubtedly belongs to the east side of the Rhine is a showstopping moment. Offenbach had a genius for stitching his diverse sources together without you ever hearing the joins.
The admirable Bru Zane Foundation, which promotes French Romantic music from a Venetian Palazzo, field a strong cast that includes Véronique Gens as the wicked sister Léona who sings a splendidly fruity version of her ‘Ballade de la belle Espagnole’. Anaïs Constans is a sweet-toned Manoëla but as her beloved Alvarès – a breeches role – Chantal Santon-Jeffery is challenged by the Act II showstopper, the Malagueña. A pair of twins born Velasquez, a deaf lawyer and a stuttering judge add to the fun. Markus Poschner conducting the Orchestre National de France and the French Radio Choir encourages the bubbles to rise to the surface in a never-ending stream. Christopher Cook