This modern EMI (France) recording
has been released internationally and is now being offered at
mid-price and occasionally at bargain price (£15). It is worth
considering as it gives a glimpse of the style of a forgotten
French composer. An earlier recording (1961), also complete, was
performed by the Paris Symphony Choir and Orchestra under Stoll
and is still available on ACCO 22086-2.
Other mainstream contributions
of Boieldieu are his popular Concerto for Harp and Orchestra,
of which the catalogue boasts eleven recordings; four chamber
works; and a series of six Romances (recorded in 2000).
was born in Rouen, Normandy into a well educated, comfortably
off household. With a father as an archbishop's secretary and
a lawyer uncle he went to the choir school of Notre Dame, Rouen.
There he was taught piano, organ, harmony and composition by the
director of music. His progress was rapid. Later as an organist
he enjoyed the theatre and became a small-time composer writing
a collection of romances. Between 1793 and 1803 wrote fifteen
collections for piano or harp accompaniment.
His first stage works Fille
coupable (1792), and Rosalie et Myrza (1795) with libretti
by his father, were staged locally in Rouen.
Boieldieu decided to move
to Paris, starting out as a piano tuner, where he became exposed
to important musical families. This provided a springboard to
allow him to show the compositions written in Rouen. The theatre
continued to fascinate him and it wasn't long before he wrote
and had staged La Famille suisse (1797). His talent was
confirmed in 1800 with Le Calife de Bagdad at the Théâtre
Favart, which ran for a full year. This work has a charming overture
and is recorded complete on a Seaford disc SPT93007. A number
of other works followed Le Calife at regular intervals
until in 1825 Boieldieu produced his masterpiece, La Dame blanche.
This was to be his swansong however, after which his health started
La Dame blanche
is a frothy and lively work with minimal dialogue and a variety
of numbers, many with chorus accompaniment. I found the music
engaging in rhythmic variety, sometimes choral, and in parts good
in orchestral effect with reminders of the charm of Rossini and
Auber with a hint of Mozart. In relation to orchestral colour
it comes as no surprise to find that Adolphe Adam (of Giselle
and Le Postillon de Lonjumeau fame) was one of Boieldieu's
pupils yet surpassed him in the provision of good melodies. The
vibrant opening to Act I (memories of the Alpine horns of Guillaume
Tell, for a scene in Scotland?) and the second musical number
are quite charming [CD1 tks 2 and 3]. From Act II onwards some
of the vocal lines are unusual. They are not clearly structured
and do not carry the memorable melodies one associates with opéra
The soloists are strong and
carry some of the difficult phrasing of Act II and Act III well.
Rockwell Blake reminds me of the style of John Aler in his high
notes. Laurent Naouri is a warmly resonant bass. Jean-Paul Fourchécourt
is a light tenor of clear diction. Mireille Delunsch and Annnick
Massis are strong sopranos. The cast provides an energetic reading
of the score. The opening chorus work is outstanding [CD1 tk1].
As the full notes tell us
(in French, English and German), interest in the work fell into
neglect until given a recent lease of life by French Radio in
1997. We owe it to EMI France for having the initiative to release
an important contribution by this composer to add to EMI's Operetta
series of Adam, Ganne, Lecocq, Messager, Offenbach, Planquette
and Varney. Researchers of musical theatre will therefore appreciate
this filling of another important gap in the opéra comique
The two CD set comes with
full libretto in French and English.