Perhaps of all the
composers listed amongst the new Accord
releases of French operettas Hervé
is the most significant. He has been
claimed as the ‘father of opéra-comique’,
that unique brand of light French opera
coupled with dialogue. Certainly the
music is fresh and appealing - the work
starts with a charming yet short overture.
First a chorister,
this composer became an organist by
the time he was fifteen. Hervé
is a pseudonym of Florimond Ronger,
taken from a Marquis de Hervé,
whom Ronger admired. He studied under
Auber at the Paris Conservatoire but
soon became dazzled by the theatre.
Taking to the stage, he played minor
roles and the occasional tenor part.
A double life continued after he won
a competition for the post of organist
at the prestigious Saint Eustache church,
Paris. This dual role, with split loyalties,
was to serve as the basic plot for Mam’zelle
Nitouche the most famous of
his one hundred and twenty plus operettas;
it’s still performed in France.
By 1855, working up
from pantomime and ‘Les Folies’ presentations,
Hervé had presented many one
act operettas. He became proficient
in writing, directing, staging and conducting
as a result. Round the corner from his
theatre, the Folies-Concertantes, Offenbach
was busy laying down a parallel career
at the Bouffes-Parisiens theatre. The
two became rivals and for many decades
were jealous of each others successes.
Yet perhaps Hervé is rightly
regarded as the ‘father of operetta’.
His work was often satirical and his
style generally more rhythmic than that
of Offenbach. Judging by this work,
the songs are tuneful, and his orchestration
is competent and endearing. A number
of songs are sturdy and march-like in
is one of his last successes
(212 performances), written at a time
when ‘opéra-bouffe’ was largely
abandoned by Hervé for the more
popular form of the ‘vaudeville opérette’.
It is an operetta set within an operetta.
The absurd and trivial plot, partly
autobiographical, concerns a convent
organist, Célestin, who composes
for the stage under the name of Floridor
— "Able and gay is Floridor: serious
and devout is Célestin"
are the lyrics in one of the songs.
A convent girl, Corinne joins him in
this split occupation. Act I, set in
the convent, begins the friendship.
Act II is set in the Theatre foyer during
the interval of the first night of the
Célestin’s operetta ‘Babet et
Cadet’. Act III requires them to return
to the convent disguised as dragoon
officers to confront the Mother Superior
about a forthcoming marriage.
In Act I some of the
music needs to be played on an organ
(on-stage) to match the religious solemnity
of the setting. However, the one used
in this recording is an example of the
early electric organs that were coming
in during the 1960s. With heavy vibrato
to mask a lack of harmonics the instrument
is not suited to the back-drop of a
conventional orchestra. Musically, the
balance of the piece is poor: only the
characters of Célestin and Denise
are fully developed and consequently
pick up most of the musical numbers
between them. There is little chorus
The singers may well
have been dynamic in a stage production,
but in a recording where the only focus
is on the voice the performance is not
ideal. Soprano, Eliane Thibaut as Denise
is weak at times and Fernandel in the
big part of Célestin/Floridor
can be gritty in his delivery: both
are more 'music hall' artistes rather
than operatic performers. Doniat as
the officer, Vicompte de Champlâteaux
sings badly with trembling vibrato in
his Act I couplets yet recovers to sing
pleasantly enough in Act II. The performance
might have been put together with French
Radio in mind for each disc is filled
with over 40% of French dialogue. The
notes are written only in French.