LABELS: Opera Rara
PERFORMER: Thora Einarsdottir, Ann Taylor, Lucy Crowe, Toby Spence, Mark Le Brocq, Mark Stone, Anne-Marie Owens, Franck Leguérinel, Loïc Félix, Jennifer Larmore, Sébastien Droy, Franck Lopez; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir dir. Nicholas Jenkins; Philharmonia Orchestra/David Parry
CATALOGUE NO: ORC41
A beloved pet buried with due solemnity; a shy hero, Valentin, renamed Vert-Vert after that dead parrot who finds himself, and love, when he sings in public; a girl’s boarding school where two of its three pupils are married and the third is in love with Valentin/Vert-Vert and where the dancing master is secretly involved with the deputy headmistress; a regiment of moustachioed dragoons and a sexually ambitious prima donna.
Could this be anything else but French music theatre in the frivolous French Second Empire? And who but Jacques Offenbach with his ear for melody, itch for rhythm and masterly orchestration could make such a joyful opéra comique out of Henri Meilhac’s libretto.
It’s remarkable that such a fine score, and such a silly but tender tale, has lain hidden for almost 150 years since it was given its premiere just one year before the Second Empire died at the battle of Sedan in 1870. For there’s treasure here: a comic duet about a garden key for the dancing master and the deputy head, with Anne-Marie Owens outraged and complicit by turns; a glittering coloratura number for the diva, that quite restores your faith in Jennifer Larmore’s talents as a singer; and a limpid aria for Valentin when he is sent on his travels that finds Toby Spence on tip-top tenor form.
There is a rousing marching chorus for the dragoons and in Thora Einarsdottir’s Mimi – the heroine of the piece – a properly sweet-toned lyric soprano. If Jacques Offenbach is the hero of the hour (well just over two hours), then his doughty champion is the indefatigable David Parry who, you feel, believes in every single note in this sparkling score. Christopher Cook