SÉVERAC Le Coeur du Moulin • Jean-Yves Ossonce, cond; Jean-Sébastien Bou (Jacques); Sophie Marin-Degor (Marie); Pierre-Yves Pruvot (Miller); Marie-Thérèse Keller (Mother); Tours Region Center SO/Ch • TIMPANI 1C1176 (75:28 Text and Translation)
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Of the three operas written by Déodat de Séverac (1872–1921), the lighthearted Le Roi Pinard was never finished. Les Antibel, described as a drame lyrique, was heard in some form of piano reduction by others—for Séverac was an accomplished pianist and improviser, who kept many unfinished works in mind, but never written out.
That leaves Le Coeur du moulin. Séverac met the writer Maurice Magre in 1897. They were both ardent Occitanian regionalists, Magre later to craft successful novels visualizing the lives of local Catharian martyrs, and Séverac working before his untimely death to establish a Mediterranean Music School that would act as a counterpoise to those in Paris. It was natural for the two to collaborate on a regional opera, and the result five years later was Le Retour. This was twice expanded before the powerful director of the Opéra-Comique, Albert Carré, finally staged the work in 1910. Yet it was subjected to Carré’s usual litany of broken promises: Top stars slated for its premiere were withdrawn for other works Carré had decided privately to push instead, and initial success was not met with offers to extend its run. Le Coeur du moulin was given again in Toulouse in 1913, but appears to have dropped out of sight after that time, though strictly local performances cannot be ruled out.
The contemporary press criticized the libretto as dramatically ineffective, but some of these were the same critics, either opposed to Debussy musically or politically, who had damned Pelléas et Mélisande. Their reservations should be considered in the light of their social and musical convictions—which, as Séverac himself ironically noted earlier, were made in a nation where composition was invariably a political act. The story, about a man who returns to his Languedoc village and discovers that his girlfriend (who had promised to wait for him) has married another, moves confidently if leisurely forward, with plenty of opportunity for color in both language and music. Its theatrical style was the symbolic realism that would find purest expression in the 1930s and 1940s “poetic realism” films of Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert, such as Daybreak, Port of Shadows, and The Night Visitors. A contemporary reviewer who expected a steady diet of Greek tragedies and frivolous Parisian love affairs on stage might be forgiven for taking umbrage at the singing spirits in a local well, a different group of singing spirits in a mill, and an owl that urges Jacques, like Pagnol’s Marius, to identify freedom with escape from the old ways of his people.
The music, on the other hand, pleased without reservations. The orchestral colors, declamatory recitative, and shape of the vocal line derive from Séverac’s beloved Debussy, but the harmonies and well-outlined themes recall the modally inflected folk songs of his native Southwestern France. Even with today’s sophisticated ears, this is freshly inventive, expressive music that delights without fail. It manages to toss out memorable thematic material with an ease made all the more astonishing in that it isn’t associated with set pieces, but only as part of heightened speech-song. Le Coeur du moulin is in fact at its least impressive in the one set piece the work supplies, Jacques’ act I “song in the traditional style” “Quand je parties j’avais pour mie.” It is as though a living culture has given way to a picture-postcard version, and the folk idiom shines far more naturally through everything else in this delightful score.
This performance is fortunate to have Jean-Yves Ossonce at its helm. He brings energy and discipline to a reading that could all too easily descend into an over-relaxed exploration of orchestral color. None of the vocalists are bad, though the women have the better of it. Sophie Marin-Degor makes a bright and vivid Marie, with a well-focused tone and easy production, while Marie-Thérèse Keller’s darker register and careful vocal shading makes her shine in the small part of The Mother. Pierre-Yves Pruvot is a classic French high bass, and a fine one, though the voice has acquired a beat since I last heard him a few years ago. Jean-Sébastien Bou has the measure of Jacques, but his tone is dull, while the upper range sounds uncomfortably strident. The Tours Region Center Symphony Orchestra and the chorus of the Tours Opera perform with distinction, though the children’s chorus is painful.
The sound lacks breadth and is a trifle dry, but the balance is good, and the performers well forward to the microphones. With full text and translation, this is a truly welcome release of a delightful work that deserves far more recognition than it has received to date.
Le Couer du Moulinby Déodat de Sévérac Performer:
Pierre-Yves Pruvot (Baritone),
Jean-Sébastien Bou (Baritone),
Sophie Marin-Degor (Soprano),
Marie-Therese Keller (Soprano)
Jean Yves Ossonce
Orchestre Symphonique Région Centre Tours
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
not like his piano musicMay 22, 2013By sherwin c. (Santa Barbara, CA)See All My Reviews"de Severac had a wonderful regional take on Debussy's sound world in his piano music. That doesn't apply here. This is really a sort of cantata, and I can't imagine a static thing like this being staged. Opera includes action. (Doesn't everyone want to see Tosca jump over the parapet?). No action here, just funky choruses and interspersed solos. Choruses composed of commentary and symbolic references don't work very well in opera."Report Abuse