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Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU (1712-1778)
Le Devin du Village - Intermezzo in One Act (1752) [76:58]
Gabriela Bürgler (soprano) – Colette; Michael Feyfar (tenor) – Colin; Dominik Wörner (baritone) – Le Devin
Cantus Firmus Chamber Choir and Consort/Andreas Reize
rec. live Kleiner Konzertsaal, Solothurn, Switzerland, August 2006
text and translations (English and German) included.
CPO 7772602 [76:58] 


Rousseau’s little opera was written immediately after the successful production of Pergolesi’s “La Serva Padrona” in Paris in 1752. That had started up a new round of the “querelle des bouffons” (quarrels of the buffoons) between supporters of the French and Italian styles of opera. Rousseau had been a strong supporter of the Italian style since his time in Venice (1743-1744) and wrote “Le Devin du Village” (The Village Soothsayer) as a French counterpart to the Italian intermezzi. Amazingly, despite its flimsy, almost non-existent, plot, it was an instant success in France and elsewhere. Early private performances included Marie-Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour as performers, and in due course it acted indirectly as the model for Mozart’s early singspielBastien und Bastienne”. It is a work which is referred to in all musical histories of the period but which is seldom performed. When it is there is a considerable surprise, as despite being intended to champion the Italian style, both its general musical character and the cut of individual phrases are very clearly French. It does indeed come across as eclectic in style, with pleasant tunes and orchestration but lacking any very strongly defined character of its own. It is nonetheless charming, if overlong, and it is a pleasure to be able to hear it in such a clear and stylish performance. 

It appears from photographs in the full and helpful booklet that the recording derives from a staged production in Solothurn in Switzerland. All three soloists are clearly well aware of the demands and conventions of music of this period. Whilst from the point of view of the plot I might have preferred the singer of the soothsayer to sound older than the other two soloists, the virtually complete inherent absence of dramatic tension means that his obvious youth is not a serious fault. I am certainly prepared to overlook it when, like all of the singers, he sounds so fresh and so involved in his part. The choir do what little they have to do well, and the orchestra, on period instruments, play very stylishly throughout. The booklet indicates that horn parts have been added by Thomas Leininger to replace those that were probably originally improvised. I have been unable to obtain a score so that I am unclear whether the same applies to the occasional percussion parts.

This is therefore a very good chance to hear a work more written about than played. I have not heard the various other recordings that have been available from time to time, but it is hard to imagine much more being made of it, and if in the end we may conclude that its proper place is as a footnote in history, it remains a curiosity worth exploring. Certainly Rousseau does deserve his place amongst those composers worth hearing but better known for their literary works, and which includes such names as Anthony Burgess, Samuel Butler and E.T.A. Hoffmann.

John Sheppard



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