Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Un mari à la porte (1859)* [44.02]
Les fables de la Fontaine (1842)* [25.11]
Gabrielle Philiponet (soprano) - Rosita; Anaïk Morel (mezzo) - Suzanna; Stéphane Malbec-Garcia (tenor) - Florestan; Marc Canturri (baritone) - Martel; Nicolai Krügel (piano)+
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko*
rec. Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, 22 November 2008* and The Friary, Liverpool, 18 November 2008+

This recording of Offenbach’s one-act operetta Un mari à la porte derives from staged performances given in Liverpool as part of the city’s festival as European City of Culture. It seems to have been a somewhat eccentric production, with all the roles double cast and both singers and actors taking each of the parts on stage. In this purely audio recording the actors who speak the dialogue simply fit into their spoken sections without any such distractions. The operetta is known nowadays purely for the Valse Tyrolienne sung by Rosita in the third scene which has been recorded many times as part of various recitals. The work as a whole here receives what appears to be its first ever recording.
The overture consists of a suite of waltzes which are charmingly delivered by a suitably cheeky orchestra under the lively direction of Petrenko. It introduces a plot of consummate silliness and immorality, where a reluctant bride on her wedding night is disturbed in her bedroom by an intruder who is fleeing from pursuit by an importunate debt collector. The bride and her companion are both enchanted by the stranger. When the bridegroom - who is the bailiff in question - comes to the bedroom, they contrive to keep him outside and lock themselves in together with the attractive younger man. What happens next is best left to the imagination.
In the six musical vocal numbers Gabrielle Philiponet and Anaïk Morel as the two girls make a charming couple, well matched in their duets. Philiponet is properly spectacular in her Valse Tyrolienne which is the only solo number in the score. The other duets, trios and quartets are fully its equal in quality. Malbec-Garcia has a rather small tenorino voice, with plenty of character, but one could imagine a more honeyed style of delivery in the more lyrical lines. When the husband arrives outside the door, complete with a party kazoo, Marc Canturri contrives to sound well in the aural picture, indeed slightly nearer to the microphones than the onstage characters. No matter; it keeps the four voices in the quartet passages in proper balance with each other.
The spoken dialogue occupies some ten minutes of the total forty minute duration, but it is crisply delivered with plenty of dramatic force (by Mélanie le Moine, Caroline Garnier, Vincent Dedienne and Loïc Varraut). It is separately tracked so it can be omitted if desired. It has been recorded in the same acoustic as the musical numbers, so blends well into the overall picture.
The six songs which constitute Les fables de la Fontaine employ the same singers as the operetta. Clearly it was recorded specifically as a fill-up for the proposed CD. In the opening The crow and the fox Canturri gets a better chance to show off a nicely turned voice than he was given in the operetta. Philiponet and Morel are again excellent, especially the former who shades her voice nicely in the beautifully sentimental The shepherd and the sea. Malbec-Garcia could do with a more vibrant voice in The town rat and the country rat. This is the shortest song in the cycle and there is not much scope for lyricism here. The three lower singers come together in the final song, although Morel has the lion’s share of the music in her role as the narrator. Nicolai Krügel is an excellently responsive pianist who gets plenty of humour into his accompaniments.
The songs were apparently criticised for their over-elaboration at the time they were given their first performance. They are, however, delightfully witty pieces which look forward to Offenbach’s later career. Gerald Larner in his booklet essay correctly notes that they look forward not only to the songs of Chabrier but also to Ravel’s Histoires naturelles. They have been recorded before by Bruno Laplante on a Calliope release from 2004. Here we are given them split between four singers. This not only provides more variety but also gives a better definition to the dialogue in the final The cobbler and the banker
The presentation of this CD is a model of what such things should be. We have two booklets. One is a CD insert which gives a synopsis of the plot, details of the works performed, and biographies of the performers (including the actors) in English, French and German. The second booklet, housed in the slipcase, gives complete texts in French with an English translation. The recorded sound is excellent throughout, and there is no evidence at all of any audience presence in the live performance of the operetta - no applause, and most surprisingly no laughter either.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Charming, cheeky and lively.