Offenbach La mari a la porte

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COMPOSERS: Jacques Offenbach
LABELS: Liverpool Philharmonic
ALBUM TITLE: Offenbach Un Mari a la porte
WORKS: Un mari a la porte; Les fables de la fontaine
PERFORMER: Anaik Morel, Gabrielle Philiponet, Stéphane Malbec-Garcia, Marc Canturri; RLPO/Vasily Petrenko
CATALOGUE NO: LPOFFCD 00211

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If not exactly a forgotten gem, Offenbach’s one-act opera Un mari à la porte is undoubtedly buried treasure. It arrived at the Bouffes-Parisiens theatre in 1859, one year after Orphée aux enfers had convinced the composer that his future lay in writing full-length works. But Un mari clearly displays his mastery of the shorter form. It tells the deliciously silly story of Florestan, a struggling composer on the run from the bailiffs, who arrives unexpectedly in the bedroom of Suzanne, newly married to the very bailiff who is chasing him. What transpires is a knowing warning about the early perils of marriage.

There’s top drawer Offenbach here from the outset: the overture’s waltz, elegantly orchestrated for woodwinds and strings, has a stylish flick in its tail. More familiar, perhaps, is the soprano aria ‘J’entends, ma belle, la ritournelle’ – the only number in the piece to have previously been recorded. Vasily Petrenko and his young cast do it justice. As Suzanne, Anaïk Morel is a splendidly petulant young bride, and Gabrielle Philiponet’s Rosita is a near-perfect flirtatious Offenbach soprano. And no wonder both women are so taken with Stéphane Malbec-Garcia’s Florestan: he’s everything you hope for in a French tenor.

The same soloists are joined by the pianist Nicolai Krügel for another rarity: Offenbach’s settings of six of La Fontaine’s fables. Written nearly 20 years before Un mari à la porte, these pieces give an early glimpse of the composer’s gifts as a man of the theatre.

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Christopher Cook