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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




André MESSAGER (1853-1929)
Véronique - operetta (complete with dialogue)
Mady Mesplé (Hélène), Andrea Guiot, Denise Benoit, Michel Dens (Florestan),
Jean-Christophe Benoit, Michel Dunand, Jacques Pruvost
René Duclos Choir
Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Lamoureux/Jean-Claude Hartemann
Rec. Paris, 1969
EMI 72435 7407328 [CD1 48.46 CD2 47.33]


AmazonFrance  Crotchet


What waltz and dance music did for Vienna, the opéra comique did for Paris. Offenbach was the composer who lit the way and built on Auber’s Fra Diavolo by making available the new genre (read Ganzl), one that was bubbly and effervescent, light, flowery, bright and easily accessible. Offenbach lit the way for new up-and-coming composers who wished to try their luck in writing for the stage in this novel genre. One who was successful was Messager. Offenbach’s new style flooded London from the 1860s onwards. In Britain this French opérette was eventually eclipsed by the rise of the Savoy comic operas of Gilbert & Sullivan two decades later. Yet ironically it was Messager with his La Basoche who came to D’Oyly Carte’s rescue to keep his new English Opera House open when no English work was in place to replace the long run of Ivanhoe (Sullivan). Of Messager’s works, Véronique is one of the best remembered in Britain, partly because Eric Robinson’s BBC orchestral concerts to the rising television public exposed the hit Véronique song, ‘Here and There’ (De ci, de là).

André Messager was born in central France at Montluçon. With a musical interest in keyboard instruments he had a leaning to the organ. He studied at the Ecole Niedermeyer under the eminent masters Saint-Saëns and Fauré who became lifelong friends. By 1878 he had had a symphony performed and was writing prize-winning cantatas. In contrast to this serious output he provided little divertissements, ballets for the Folies Bergères, which provided useful income. His rise to fame came with two opéra-comiques written in 1885– La Fauvette du Temple and La Béarnaise, both of which received long runs and were exported to London and New York. The critics liked his orchestration since it revealed a classical suppleness and charm lacking in the French compositions of Planquette and Lecocq which were then being performed alongside Offenbach. Five years later his compositions were at their best. In 1890 La Basoche played at the Opéra-Comique and opened a new chapter. Telling the story of a student crowned "King of the Basoche’, an ancient law guild and mistaken for the real King, the music was warmly praised for restoring gaiety to the stage of the Opéra-Comique. Its score was considerably heavier than his usual stage compositions. (No recording of the work exists though it was broadcast by the BBC under Beecham? in the 1920s.)

Véronique opened in 1898 and was set in a romantic period of French fashion, the 1840s, which had some appeal in itself. It is of course a love story surrounding two central characters, Florestan and Véronique. After a vibrant overture, the operetta takes little time to warm up. For the entrance of Hélène (Véronique) Messager is musically at his strongest, using wind and strings to provide a perfect and magical effect. Florestan appears with a lilting song which is not particularly inventive and is similar to songs from the pen of Lecocq or Planquette. But it contrasts nicely with Messager’s ambitiously written quartet, Charmant, charmant, that follows. The Act 1 finale is recognisably Offenbach in rhythm and strong beat. Two hits are the catchy – De ci, de là (Trot here, trot there) (mentioned above), and a flowery Swing song, heard later. Act 3 is notable for its comic duet with a refrain which wins Messager to the heart. Messager’s compositions are generally flowery, elegantly light in orchestral colour, and generally have a vocal line often shadowed by the orchestra (à la Offenbach) yet sometimes exhibiting a typically ‘music hall’ effect. His gift lies in warm melodies and harmonies that are easy on the ear.

The soloists both sing and act well with the required element of fun included. It helps to be able to follow the French dialogue (though this is tracked separately so that a CD player may be programmed to play the music alone). Mady Mesplé (Hélène/Véronique) needs no introduction to recordings of French opérette with her distinctive, light and thinly textured soprano voice with clear pronunciation and rapid vibrato. Michel Dens (Florestan) is less well known; he previously sang in Pathé EMI’s previous production of L’Auberge du Cheval blanc in 1962 and a year after this recording sang in Pathé EMI’s Le Pays du Sourire. His rich warm tone ideally fits the part with strong delivery.

This 2 CD set is a reissue of LPs released in the 1970. The recording master tapes have not deteriorated with age and the transfer to CD is excellent. However, the track indexing is poor. With this mid-price issue, no notes are included.

  ’Trot here, trot there’ –the song which made Véronique famous


Raymond Walker

 

Operette series from Universal Accord reviewed by Ray Walker



 
Further reading: "Operetta", Traubner (Oxford); ‘Musicals", Ganzl (Carlton)


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