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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

François Adrien BOIELDIEU (1775-1834)
La Dame Blanche (1825) - Opéra-comique in 3 acts
Georges Brown - Rockwell Blake (tenor)
Gaveston - Laurent Naouri (bass)
Dickson - Jean-Paul Fourchécourt (tenor)
Anna - Annnick Massis (soprano)
Jenny - Mireille Delunsch (soprano)
Marguerite - Sylvie Brunet, (contralto)
Choir of Radio France
Ensemble Orchestral de Paris/Marc Minkowski
Rec. Studio of Radio France, Paris. 1996-7
EMI CLASSICS CDS 556 355-2 [2CDs: 68.16+68.29]

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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).

François Boieldieu 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 to deteriorate.

 

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 comique.

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 tradition.

The two CD set comes with full libretto in French and English.


Raymond Walker

 



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