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Roussel: Aunt Caroline’s Will

Marie Perbost, Marie Lenormand et al; Orchestre des Frivolités Parisiennes/Dylan Corlay (Naxos)

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

Roussel
Le Testament de la Tante Caroline (Aunt Caroline’s Will)
Marie Perbost, Marie Lenormand, Marion Gomar, Lucile Komitès, Charles Mesrine, Aurélien Gasse, Fabien Hyon, Till Fechner, Romain Dayez; Orchestre des Frivolités Parisiennes/Dylan Corlay
Naxos 8.660479   78:56 mins

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At 68, egged on by Honegger and Ibert’s financial success with musical comedy, Albert Roussel decided to write an Opéra-Bouffe. Playing safe, his librettist borrowed a story from de Maupassant about a poule de luxe who leaves her fortune to whichever of her nieces can produce an heir within a year.

If the composer hoped for money he was disappointed, as were the critics when Roussel insisted that his characters were ‘entirely grotesque and … should be played without any fear of exaggerating their effect.’ The work dipped at its premiere in Czechoslovakia in 1936 and dived at the Opéra-Comique the next year. Three decades on, a one-act version was carved from the original three which is what Les Frivolités Parisiennes have now recorded.

True to Roussel’s instruction, the cast shout and bellow as if performing a demented version of Jarry’s Ubu Roi. Since, once again, Naxos do not provide a text it’s impossible to know if the dialogue is sparkling or leaden. The music generally lacks that lightness and grace we expect in this kind of Parisian work.  Who would disagree with the critic who wrote that Roussel had ‘difficulty adapting himself to simplicity’?

A pair of sweet-toothed airs almost touch the spot. ‘Mademoiselle Irène d’Anjou’, accompanied by the all-too-predictable flute solo is agreeably sung by Marie Perbost, and ‘C’était un gars de la Bretagne’ has a folkish whiff about it. Only Fabien Hyon the chauffeur has the vocal muscle to match his sex appeal. Spoiler alert – he gets his just rewards, the dosh.

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Christopher Cook