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Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947) Ciboulette - operetta in three acts (1923)
Ciboulette – Julie Fuchs (soprano)
Antonin – Julien Behr (tenor)
Duparquet - Jean-François Lapointe (baritone)
Zénobie - Eva Ganizate (mezzo)
Roger - Ronan Debois (baritone)
Orchestre Symphonique de l’Opéra de Toulon/Laurence Equilbey
Michel Fau (stage direction)
rec. live, Opéra Comique, February 2013
Region 0, Screen ration 16:9, Audio: PCM 2.0 and DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio FRA MUSICA FRA509Blu-ray [145:00 + 31:00 interviews]
At first glance, Ciboulette seems to be a classic example of that most French of genres, the opéra comique. In reality, however, it was meant to be an attempt to meld the conventions of opéra comique with those of the American-style musical comedies that were becoming so popular at the time of its composition (1923). You’d need to be a greater expert in both genres to notice this, though. In fact it feels about as French as they come. It’s one of the most popular and most often recorded opéras comique of the twentieth century, and this production serves it well for the international digital market.
It’s a classic tale of boy-meets-girl and rags-to-riches, featuring the market girl Ciboulette who falls in love with the wealthy Antonin and, after a series of misunderstandings, marries him. Hahn uses this simple tale as an excuse to hang together lots of scene-setting and characteristic music. The piece opens in a Parisian café, for example, before relocating to the market of Les Halles, and even finishes in the Opéra itself, though it isn’t specified which one. En route there is some attractive scene-setting music, such as a rousing chorus for some inebriated hussars in the café, celebrating the promotion of one of their officers, a few choruses for the market traders, and some stylised Spanish music to coincide with the character that Ciboulette adopts for the disguise of the final act. Most attractive of all is a lovely pastorale for the transition to the countryside of Aubervilliers in the second act.
All of the characters are distinctly, if simply drawn, and are given some attractive music, too. I really enjoyed the sort-of-love-duet that Ciboulette and Antonin sing in the second act, and Ciboulette’s big finale brings down the curtain very satisfyingly. I especially enjoyed her solo in the second act about being on the edge of Paris, the edge of love and the edge of sorrow. Hahn also seems intent on referencing other works so as to place Ciboulette within a certain musical consciousness. That includes several opéras comique which, while named in the booklet, were unfamiliar to me. More recognisable are explicit references to Massenet’s Manon and to Debussy’s Pelléas, and it’s a nice touch to discover that the controller at Les Halles, Duparquet, is Puccini’s Rodolfo, grown up and respectable now but still mourning the loss of Mimi.
The solos are very stylishly taken. As Ciboulette, Julie Fuchs has a light, soubrettish colour to her voice which crests the top notes well, though little coloratura is required of her. Julian Behr’s Antonin is rather silly but also quite winning and lightish of voice. Jean-François Lapointe brings world-weariness to the part of Duparquet but not so much weight as to weigh down the atmosphere. The second pair of lovers, Eva Ganizate and Ronan Debois, are nicely contrasted from the main ones, both in terms of character and vocal colour.
However, this remains primarily a company piece. It’s lovely that it’s being done by the Opéra Comique itself, grounding the piece squarely in its own world and heritage. The chorus and the cast of cameos obviously buy into it fully, and Laurence Equilbey, more famous in Britain for her, rather more serious, work with Accentus, directs the performance with plenty of élan and persuasive style, something the orchestra also provides in spades. If you’re interested in opéra comique then this is essential, but it’s also worth exploring if you like French opera and are keen to explore a little further. Be warned, though: in spite of the subtitles, the “comedy” can get a little wearing for non-Francophone viewers; or perhaps that’s more my problem for simply not finding the cross-dressing falsetto in the least bit amusing.