The Revival of Boismortier’s ‘Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse’

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Joseph Bodin de Boismortier
LABELS: Alpha
ALBUM TITLE: Boismortier
WORKS: Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse
PERFORMER: Chantal Santon Jeffery, François-Nicolas Geslot, Marc Labonnete; Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet; dir. Corinne and Gilles Benizio (Versailles, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: Alpha ALPHA 711

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Once he had settled in Paris in 1723, Boismortier became one of the most prolific and prosperous French composers of the 18th century. Best known for his flute sonatas, Boismortier’s fortune was built on a keen ear for instrumental sonority, a gift for appealing melody and an instinct for the increasingly fashionable Italian style. Composed for the Carnival of 1743, Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse was based on a libretto by Favart, one of the rising stars of comic opera in France. The plot is fair old nonsense comprising a series of elaborate jokes at Don Quichotte’s expense in which the ‘Knight of the sad countenance’, in pursuit of Dulcinea, is confronted by all manner of farcical adventures, the climax of which is his mock coronation as King of Japan.

While it doesn’t approach the audacity of Rameau, Boismortiers’s score offers many delights and the performers have enormous fun with it. Hervé Niquet himself, dressed as Quichotte, provides a dead-pan comic introduction and makes numerous cheeky interventions during the performance, the most outrageous of which sees him joining in a seemingly impromptu flamenco divertissement on stage. Corinne and Gilles Benizio’s stage production introduces a number of unorthodox imports and for the most part they add much to the jollity of the proceedings. The lead singers generate a strong sense of ensemble with Chantal Santon Jeffrey’s Duchess and Marc Labonette’s Sancho Panza making the most of their comic opportunities. Unfortunately, the quality of the singing doesn’t always match the acting. The playing is enormously accomplished and the excellent filming shows that a good time was had by all. It’s a pity, given the rather thin accompanying booklet, that there is no accompanying DVD feature about this production.

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Jan Smaczny