This is a PAL DVD and is not playable on NTSC DVD players.
LULLY Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme • Vincent Dumestre, cond; various actors, singers, dancers; Musiciens du Poème Harmonique • ALPHA 700 (2 DVDs: 210:00) Live: Paris 2004
Contrary to the liner notes, Lully and Molière did not invent in Le MariageRead more forcé (1664) the comédie-ballet, a form that welded theater, music, and dance within the context of a play. Even if we disallow Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo of 1647 from accepting that honor—an opera with integrated ballet sections—then the first comédie-ballet by Molière was Les Fâcheaux, with music by Pierre Beauchamps, prepared for a 1661 celebration given by Nicolas Fouquet in honor of the Sun King. That noted, it’s true that the comédie-ballet only really gained traction when the team of Lully and Molière took it on. They wrote 11 in all. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme in 1670 was to prove the last, for Lully had greater ambitions, and Molière still saw the dance and musical elements as ancillary to the main comic proceedings. Ironically, for centuries the work was usually performed as a play, stripped of its music and dance, in a certain sense reaffirming Molière’s view. With Lully’s reputation (and works) restored once again in modern times, we have a chance to actually watch Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme as it was conceived.
More than that, in fact. This is the kind of historically accurate production that the French take delight in, and that extends throughout the behind-the-scenes production. Costumes are period-immaculate; makeup is heavy on both males and females; actors declaim their lines directly to the audience; dance steps are chosen to mirror those used at the time; stylized gestures, whose every graceful turn possesses a specific meaning, are employed. Even the stage lighting is managed by hundreds of small candles in footlights and candelabra. It’s a novel experience to the newcomer, and will probably be considered as going too far even by a few of those who value authenticity simply for its own sake.
There’s a lot of the play that doesn’t feature music, so it’s worth a brief discussion. Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is a comedy that depicts the attempts of one Monsieur Jourdain, a wealthy cloth merchant, to ape the manners of the aristocracy. To that end, he hires teachers in music, dancing, fencing, and philosophy; is gulled by an impoverished nobleman who despises him, but loves his money; and dreams of marrying his daughter, Lucille, off to a lord. Jourdain of course turns down the marriage suit of Cléonte, a member of his own class, so the young man conspires to appear before his prospective father-in-law disguised as the son of the Turkish Sultan and request Lucille as his bride. Jourdain approves. A notary is summoned, and all ends happily—or at least, until the father of the family can be confronted with the truth, after the play concludes. Characterizations are, as ever with mature Molière, brilliantly individualized. Sly wit (one oft-quoted line encapsulates the joy Jourdain expresses when he discovers he’s been speaking prose all his life) and physical gags abound.
The musical sections are varied and extensive. They include a new pastoral devised by the music and dancing teachers, the dance of the tailor’s assistants as Jourdain is clothed in the latest court fashion, a pair of cooks singing as they serve Jourdain’s feast, the elaborate entrance of the Turks, and the final celebration of different regional styles while various stories are ballet-mimed (with that of Arlequin receiving considerable applause from the live audience). Lully was always capable of producing distinctive dance scores, and he doesn’t disappoint here. (He danced one of the Turkish roles in the original run.)
Three separate groups of performers are employed, for acting, singing, and dancing, though there is some occasional crossover. I would single out Serge Goubioud for his mellifluous tenor, and Claire Lefilliâtre for her agility and bright top, but there are no bad singers in the lot—nor poor performers among the dancers or actors. Julien Lubek, who dances several roles, deserves especial mention for his Arlequin, but he also supplies the wonderfully acted Dance Master, whose exchanges with Alexandra Rübner’s smarmy Music Master constitute one of the joys of this production. But then, this really is an ensemble work. At times the pacing is too slow, but when it all clicks, the unfamiliar traditions fade away.
Subtitles are supplied in French, English, Spanish, German, Chinese, and Dutch, with a video format of 16:9, and sound offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM stereo. As filler, a nearly hour-long documentary from 2005 titled The Children of Molière and Lully delves into the making of the production. Unlike the usual DVD operatic extras, this one has some substance. It’s fun to watch the cast and crew discuss costumes, musical ornamentation, dancing, gestures, and show it all as a work in progress.
If you’re not into Baroque French music, you still might enjoy the play. But this production of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is really for the person who wants all the original elements as the composer and playwright called for them—and that’s not a virtue, but simply one of many valid points of view. Should that be of interest, don’t hesitate.
Le bourgeois gentilhomme, LWV 43by Jean-Baptiste Lully Orchestra/Ensemble:
Musiciens Du Poème Harmonique
Period: Baroque Written: 1670; France Date of Recording: Live 2004 Venue: Paris, France
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Loved the music, but mostly the dancingOctober 28, 2015By Hugh T. J. (Dixon, CA)See All My Reviews"I initially thought I screwed up and ordered the "PAL" format, but to my pleasant surprise the shipped DVD was in the compatible "NTSD" format after all. The first disc was mostly dialogue with no arias to speak of, the second was almost all music and dancing. Lots of fun, so glad I wasn't put off on buying it. The none stop dialogue subtitles on the first disc was too hard to keep up with, so I gave up and followed the action so to speak."Report Abuse