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Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Le docteur Miracle (1857)
Laurette - Marie-Bénédicte Souquet (soprano); Le Podestat (Mayor) - Pierre-Yves Pruvot (baritone); Silvio/Pasquin/Docteur Miracle - Jérôme Billy (tenor); Véronique - Isabelle Druet (mezzo)
Orchestre Lyrique Région Avignon Provence/Samuel Jean
rec. September, 2012, Le Pontet, Auditorium du Grand-Avignon, France. DDD
text and translation included
TIMPANI 1C1204 [58:15]

In 1856 Offenbach set up a competition to discover potential new composers of operette. Six finalists were chosen and given a libretto by Leon Battu and Ludovic Halévy for a one act work. The joint winners were Bizet and Lecocq and each of their efforts was given eleven performances in 1857at the Bouffes-Parisiens, Offenbach’s theatre. Little more was heard of Bizet’s work, and even after it was at last published some fifty years ago performances have been rare. This recording is a welcome chance to enjoy more of the composer’s early works. Given the deserved popularity of the earlier Symphony in C of 1855 expectations are likely to be high.
 
In the event it must be conceded that Le Docteur Miracle is not really of comparable quality although it does have substantial merits. The very slight plot concerns the eventually successful attempts of Silvio to marry the daughter of the Podestat. He succeeds by disguising himself as a servant who cooks an omelette which is eaten by the Podestat. Silvio then claims (falsely) that it has been poisoned and disguises himself again, this time as a quack doctor who offers to cure the Podestat in exchange for the hand of Laurette. The offer is accepted.
 
The music consists of an Overture and seven vocal numbers separated by lengthy dialogue. Although the latter is presented with considerable dramatic flair it is hardly of such interest or amusement that most listeners would be likely to want to repeat the experience very often. The music, although amazingly professional and effective for a young and inexperienced composer, does tend at times to be generic in character.
 
The Overture, taken a fraction too fast here, is attractive and delightfully scored, as is the whole work. The vocal numbers are uniformly elegant and deftly written but do tend to outstay their undoubted initial welcome. This applies to even the best known number - the “omelette” quartet - for all its ingenuity and humour.
 
This is certainly a work which any admirer of the composer will want to get to know, but it would be best not to build hopes of its merits too high. It is nonetheless a thoroughly well-written piece that prefigures many characteristics of the composer’s later masterworks.
 
The best thing about this performance is the clear dramatic involvement of both singers and orchestra. Even if none of them are outstanding the four singers all make the most of the opportunities presented, especially in the more lyrical moments. The orchestra similarly relish the ingenious scoring, although, as I have mentioned, at times a less hectic approach might pay greater dividends.
 
Timpani have provided a libretto in English and French which is helpful given the very speedy delivery of much of the dialogue where the two female voices sound disconcertingly similar.
 
Overall this is a disc that will give pleasure even if it does not reveal an undiscovered masterpiece.
 
John Sheppard
 
and the earlier review by Ralph Moore ...

When only eighteen years old, Bizet won jointly with Charles Lecocq, a competition to write an operetta. The contest was organised by Offenbach and entries were to be based on a libretto which was a French adaptation of Sheridan's "St Patrick's Day". 

The result was "Le docteur Miracle", a charming, fizzing piece containing echoes of Rossini and passages anticipatory of "Carmen"; the greatest pleasure it affords to the listener is in the lively ensembles, but there are arias such as the Mayor’s “J’ai déjà compté dans ma vie” which sound like pure Don Magnifico, as in Rossini’s “La cenerentola”. The plot is simplicity itself, with elements familiar from more celebrated operas such "The Barber of Seville" concerning the efforts of young lovers to circumvent their elders' attempts to keep them apart. It alludes also to other operas such as "L'elisir d'amore" and "Così fan tutte" in which "medical miracles" feature prominently for comic effect.

There appear to be only four other extant recordings: one a provincial performance in English from 1959, two French radio broadcasts from the early 1970s, both featuring the tenor Rémy Corazza, and another French-language version recorded in Lublin, Poland, in 2002, in which the “Podestat” is Pierre-Yves Pruvot, the same baritone we hear on this new recording. I have heard and reviewed only the 1975 off-air recording conducted by Bruno Amaducci and available on Opera d’Oro. This recording from Timpani instantly presents several important advantages over that Radio France disc, the first being modern sound without the sudden muffled bouts in an otherwise very listenable stereo broadcast. Secondly, the overture is here complete at 5:35; the Opera d’Oro disc fades it in, as the first thirty bars are missing on the original tape. Thirdly, we are given a complete French-English libretto whereas Opera d’Oro (in its de luxe “Grand Tier” edition; not the standard bargain issue) provides only the sung text and not the spoken dialogue. Finally, this recording, made in Avignon, asks the singers deliver their own dialogue instead of importing actors whose voices are almost invariably mismatched with those of the singers; that trap is triumphantly avoided here.
 
All of this should predispose me to recommend Timpani unhesitatingly over Opera d’Oro - but it’s not quite that simple. While there is nothing wrong with Samuel Jean’s direction, Amaducci is a more lively and idiomatic conductor; furthermore he has a quartet of star-singers from the 1970s, especially that most elegant of French baritones, Robert Massard and the lovely, creamy, plaintive soprano of Christiane Eda-Pierre. She occasionally skirts a certain under-the-note quality but she is an accomplished and touching singer with an excellent trill; her aria "Ne me grondez pas" is reminiscent of Teresa's aria "Je vais le voir" from Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini" which Eda-Pierre recorded under Colin Davis. Lyliane Guitton is excellent as Véronique and although the tenor of Rémy Corazza - whose voice reminds me very much of Welsh tenor Ryland Davies - is a bit bleaty, he is wholly in genre. 

With the exception of Pruvot’s attractive baritone - he is also amusing and adept in his dialogue - none of Jean’s singers is the equal of those for Amaducci, although they are extremely competent and work very well as an ensemble. However, having nearly gone under, l'Orchestre Lyrique Région Avignon-Provence, here confirms its resurgence and proves its worth with some excellent playing.
 
The production values for this CD issue are ambitious and it is very attractively presented with a booklet, neat artwork and a slip-case. The usual problems with clumsy translation and sloppy proofing apply: “Podestat” should clearly be translated as “Mayor”, not “Counsellor” given that the libretto is set in Padua, which has a “podestà. The translation of the libretto is far too free and loses nuances in the original French libretto. Thus, for example, “Ces chants à lui sont bien plus doux” becomes “Because I know that’s not his voice” when it should be, “”His songs are much sweeter”; there are numerous typos in the English: “garnison” for “garrison”, “teh” for “the”; “mit-wit” for “nit-wit”; “maid” for “made” and so on. The translation of the booklet essay is a gem of obfuscation; perhaps attributable to the rather pretentious French original. Thus we get sentences such as “The final quartet is highly evolutional” and “The archaic introduction installs an atmosphere of religiosity.” Finally, and inexplicably, the translator chooses to give Silvio (or “Sivio” as the booklet first calls him) an assumed “cockney” accent whereas the Podestat specifically refers to “La rusticité de son langage”. I know translators are often poorly paid, but please. 

The cumulative effect of these admittedly nit-picking flaws is one of irritation but in the end it’s the music which counts and this rare work is given a spirited and entertaining airing.
 
Ralph Moore

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