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Vincent SCOTTO (1876-1952)
Opérettes Marseillaises (excerpts - dialogue in French)
Au Pays du Soleil (1932); Trois de la Marine (1933); Arènes Joyeuses (1934); Un de la Canebière (1935)
Janine Ervil (soprano): Miette/Rosette/Marguette/Francine; Pierre Denain (tenor): Titin/Antonin/Remy/Toinet
Decca Orchestra and Choir/André Grassi
rec. Decca/Universal Studios, Antony, France, 1962. ADD
ACCORD OPERETTE 476 2107 [56:48 + 56:34]

For me this set is the least satisfying of Accord’s Opérette series (see review link page) for it tries to provide a glimpse through extracts of four shows each originally confined to one LP side. The fact that dialogue is included means that the amount of music is precious little. As with one of the other Opérette recordings with abundant dialogue, it makes me wonder whether this collection originated as a radio programme, where their stories – though always slight - need to be conveyed to the listeners.
Scotto was of Neapolitan descent and initially - and later - lived in Marseille, where he provided a series of operetta-revues at the Varieties theatre. They are more revue than operetta in style, with books by an associate, Henri Alibert. His early interest in music was self-developed through playing the guitar. He never learnt to read music and his four thousand songs and sixty operettas were all accomplished through collaborations with those who could transcribe his ideas. His breakthrough came when the singer Polin took his song La Petite Tokinoise to national popularity. Later his songs were sung by Chevalier, Piaf, Josephine Baker and Toni Rossi. He moved to Paris in 1895 where he rapidly became one of the leading music-hall writers of the day. His early hit Ah! si vous voulez de l'amour sealed his position. Scotto returned to Marseille in 1931 beginning an era where the operettas excerpted here were heard. He also wrote music for some 200 films. In the 1940s he went through a stage of producing serious operas such as Violettes Impériales (1948).
The present series of shows was written for his birthplace Marseille and later transferred to Paris. Au Pays du Soleil (The Country of the Sun) was the first show to be staged. Others followed as a result of initial acclaim. The success of this Mediterranean music when brought to Paris inculcated an interest in the colour of other countries' music, notably Spain. Similar material by Francis Lopez (1916-1995) built on this heyday. Lopez picked up the rich tapestry of colour provided by Spanish and Mexican themes and was responsible for a post-war expansion of the genre when La Belle de Cadix (1945) opened at the Casino-Montparnasse. Operettas by Lopez also appear in this series: Andalousie (excerpts) (1947) and Méditerranée (excerpts) (1955) on Accord 476 9989.
The singers used to present these excerpts are confined to two principals - the same for each of the four operettas - plus choir, with a few minor singers occasionally making their contribution. Of these principals, I find Ervil's soprano quality extremely satisfying, with elegant vibrato and smoothly delivered held notes. One can see her bedecked in iridescent robes radiating a powerful presence. Denain, her partner, is not as charismatic and in comparison has a harsh and forced edge to the timbre of his voice. This may be satisfactory for the non-exacting genre of 'musical', but can wear thin over repeated CD listening sessions.
The notes as with other items in the Accord Opérette series are written in French only.
Raymond J Walker



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