The title will mean little to most people. Few of us
have had the privilege of being exposed to many of Adam's fine theatre
works and few performances or recordings have existed. Giselle
is the obvious exception - a ballet that still enjoys a place in the
Adolphe Adam always considered his music to
sparkle and be comprehensible to the listener. In his own words. … My
only aim is to write music which is transparent, easy to understand
and pleasing to the public."
He received his musical training at the Paris Conservatoire,
initially as an organ scholar, having been prepared by his pianist and
composer father. Boieldieu communicated a love for the theatre to Adam
and pointed out the lucrative returns that composers such as he could
receive. Adam set out on a musical career that resulted in around forty
lyric works and some twenty vaudevilles, ballets and opéra-comiques.
He is best remembered for his opéra-comiques: Le Postillon
de Longjumeau and Si j'étais Roi; and the ballet,
Giselle. When Giselle was composed in 1841 it became a
lasting success, still appearing in today's international repertoire.
He went on to write the ballet, La jolie fille de Gand (1842)
which has been recorded on Marco Polo 8.223772-3. La Filleule des
Fées followed in 1849.
La Filleule des fées is a full-length
ballet which lasts for two hours and five minutes. The story calls for
complex staging which must have been difficult to achieve. If staged
well this would have added to the spectacle of the piece. Its stage
directions call for a cottage wall which becomes invisible when a wand
is waved, a mirror which grows in size in front of the observer's eyes,
words written in fire appear in a black cloud, mist which envelops and
recedes, and an on-stage hut which disappears then reappears on a distant
hill. Could it be that the expensive staging has been the reason why
the work has not been revived? Clearly, such trickery would lend itself
ideally to the medium of television. Exposure of the superb score in
this recording could well stimulate such a revival.
The work was based on a book by Jules-Henri Vernoy,
Marquis de St. Georges and Perrot, and was first staged at the Paris
Opéra in October 1849. The notes tell us that the ballet's settings,
with décor by Cambon, caused a sensation through its innovative
use of electric lighting and fountains.
In its fantasy story, the prologue opens with a newly
baptised child, Ysaure, visited by two old women who beg for hospitality
which is granted. After supper when all have retired the two old women
transform into good fairies who secretly bestow gifts of beauty on the
child. A third old woman who was earlier turned away now appears and
transforms into a black evil fairy who declares she will keep her gift
until the child's fifteenth year.
Act I, set in the countryside, shows the villagers
dancing and preparing for the spring festival. Ysaure, now fifteen,
goes indoors to dress for the celebration while a village boy who has
been admiring her is left outside. The black fairy appears and promises
to provide the boy with happiness if he will kiss her. They leave together
and a young huntsman arrives: he turns out to be a Prince. The two old
women now appear, begging, and on receipt of gold tell him he will fall
in love, and point to Ysaure's hut. Both the boy and huntsman are separately
urged by the evil and good fairies respectively to pursue their love
for Ysaure, which they do behind each other's backs. The Prince wins
her affections and asks for her hand in marriage, which she accepts.
The black fairy now gives her present, telling the other fairies they
have made her so beautiful that any man who looks at her will go out
of his mind. The girl realises she must keep her face covered from the
Prince to avoid this and runs to hide. An Entr'acte links Acts I &
Act II takes place in a woodland park with lake and
fountain, and statues dotted around. The statues come to life and Ysaure
enters, conveyed by a swan. As the sun rises she wishes to see the Prince
she has hidden her face from and finds him sleeping. The village boy
returns under the black fairy's spell and on touching Ysaure tries to
turn her into a statue. However, one of the good fairies has managed
to grasp the girl's arm and breaks the spell. The fairies decide to
turn the Prince blind so that he can be comforted by his beloved without
going mad. Though the black fairy has been avenged, she relents to the
wishes of Ysaure and the good fairies if the prince can recognise Ysaure
among all the girls. This happens and clouds of mist disperse to reveal
fairyland and the marriage now takes place.
This music was composed during a period when Adam was
at the height of his creative talents. This is no second-rate Adam:
the music is uplifting and quite delightful, containing charming melodies
with much bright orchestral colour. Adam is not short of melodic ideas
and these melt like chocolate into a choreographic flow which makes
most enjoyable listening. At times I wonder if I can detect Verdi and
Rossini both of whom must have made some impression on Adam. Sample
CD1 tks 14, 21, 22 or CD2 tks 4, 5.
The composer gives all sections of the orchestra opportunity
to display their skills and this they do admirably. The strings are
particularly crisp (so vital in ballet music) and the brass modulate
sensitively. The wind and strings sound perfect in the reverberation
provided. Where knocking effects are cued, care is taken to make sure
this does not interrupt the pianissimo figures, and the producers of
this set did well to dispense with the thunder effects.
The notes give good background notes on Adam and a
full and detailed synopsis takes the listener through the ballet's development
track by track. The booklet by Keith Anderson is written in English,
French and German.
This is an issue Marco Polo must be proud of and makes
me now want to hear La jolie fille de Gand on Marco Polo 8.223772-3.