Notes and Editorial Reviews
Let us get it straight right from the start. This is not another operetta by the composer of Veronique, but a genuine opera from a cultured musician who was Artistic Director at both the Opera and Covent Garden as well as the original conductor of Pelleas et Melisande. Indeed, the original Pelleas (Jean Perier) and Golaud (Hector Dufranne) created the roles of Landry and Clavaroche in Messager's opera, and the celebrated baritone Lucien Fugere that of Maitre Andre.
There is not much of Pelleas to be heard here, to be sure, but perhaps a little more of the lighthearted Bohemian music of Puccini's most popular opera. Like Puccini's work, this is a compact piece, none of its acts lasting much more than half an hour. It is a
light, sentimental piece, with gently suspended vocal lines floating above charming strands of melody, and with lovely chamber textures in its delicate, masterly orchestration.
The opera's source is Alfred de Musset's play Le chandelier. A chandelier in this instance has nothing to do with candles, lighting, or hanging from the ceiling. Rather, it is a decoy for a love affair. Fortunio, a young apprentice, is the intended decoy for an affair between Jacqueline, wife of the lawyer Maitre Andre, and the handsome soldier Clavaroche. However, Fortunio himself falls for Jacqueline's charms before rudely discovering the relationship between her and Clavaroche. The famous song that Fortunio sings, set originally by Offenbach when he was Musical Director at the Comedie Francaise, was intended to entertain his master and mistress, but instead reveals his love for Jacqueline. Offenbach himself so fell in love with his setting that he composed an operetta around it—a sequel to Musset's play.
Messager, for his part, in effect composes a prelude to Musset's play, with a First Act telling how Clavaroche and Jaqueline become lovers. Musset's three acts are then followed in the remainder of the opera. Apparently the opera originally had an additional Fourth Act (of five) that was later dropped and is not heard in this recording.
The cast of the recording is that of a highly acclaimed production at Lyon last year. Colette Alliot-Lugaz is a suitably engaging Jacqueline, Michel Trempont typically reliable as the cuckolded Maitre Andre, and Gilles Cachemaille especially impressive as the swaggering, lecherous Captain Clavaroche. I am not altogether sure about Thierry Dran, whose tenor at times has a pinched tone to it but at other times is appropriately light and sweet for the young clerk. In a 1962 French EMI excerpts recording with Liliane Berton, Michel Senechal Michel Dens and Jean Christophe Benoit (available most recently as part of a Messager boxed set from Conifer), Pierre Dervaux caressed phrases in a typically French manner that John Eliot Gardiner doesn't quite manage. On the other hand, this is a seamless score much better heard in complete acts than in excerpts and Gardiner keeps the music moving along at just the right pace to maintain the momentum it needs.
Erato provide a line-by-line libretto that is essential for non-French listeners, but supporting documentation is poor. There isn't even an indication of the setting of the action, and the English translation of the introductory essay is at times laughable. Moreover, by failing to allow for the preludes to the final two acts, the numbering and timing of the tracks on the second CD are all astray. No matter. This is a charming and most welcome variation to the operatic diet that I warmly urge readers to try.
-- Andrew Lamb, Gramophone [8/1988]
Reviewing original release
Works on This Recording
Fortunio by André Messager
Sylvie Stewart (Mezzo Soprano),
Thierry Dran (Tenor),
Brigitte Desnoues (Soprano),
Colette Alliot-Lugaz (Soprano),
Patrick Rocca (Tenor),
Nicolas Rivenq (Baritone),
Michel Fockenoy (Tenor),
René Schirrer (Bass Baritone),
Michel Trempont (Tenor),
Francis Dudziak (Baritone),
Gilles Cachemaille (Bass)
John Eliot Gardiner
Lyon Opera Orchestra,
Lyon Opera Chorus
Written: 1907; France
Length: 102 Minutes 0 Secs.
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