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François-André Danican PHILIDOR (1726 – 1795)
Les Femmes Vengées - Opéra-comique in one act (1775)
Claire Debono (soprano) – Madame Riss; Pascale Beaudin (soprano) – Madame la Présidente; Blandine Staskiewicz (mezzo) – Madame Lek; Jeffrey Thompson (tenor) – Monsieur Riss; Antonio Figueroa (tenor) – Monsieur le Président; Alex Dobson (baritone) – Monsieur Lek
Opera Lafayette/Ryan Brown
rec. Dekelbourn Hall, The Clarice, University of Maryland, USA, 19-20 January 2014
The French libretto and an English translation can be accessed online.
NAXOS 8.660353 [67:20]

What a charming and entertaining comedy - full of agreeable melodies and quite a lot of drama.

Philidor is hardly a household name today – not even among fairly well-informed opera lovers – but 250 years ago he was. He was then one of the foremost composers of opera-comique and had at least three great successes: Le sorcier (1764), Tom Jones (1765) and Ernelinde (1767). Of these Tom Jones, based on Fielding’s famous picaresque novel of the same title, is possibly his masterwork. Besides his musical activities he was also the greatest chess player of his age and wrote what was to be the standard chess manual for at least a century. His bust can be found on the façade of the Opera Garnier in Paris.
Les Femmes Vengées (The Avenged Women) was written almost a decade after the three successes mentioned above and it has much of their flair and elegance. The story by Michel-Jean Sedaine (1719 – 1797) has similarities with Da Ponte’s Così fan tutte, though written several years earlier. The Paris premiere was on 20 March 1775 and when Mozart visited Paris three years later it was still running. It is quite possible that he could have heard it and may have been influenced by it. Moreover it calls for similar soloists and could function as a third act to Così, taking place after the couples have been married for several years. This was the background when Opera Lafayette in 2014 presented the two operas as a double bill with the same sets and the same cast. Così was sung in French, there were cuts and the recitatives were replaced by spoken dialogue. Les Femmes Vengées was performed complete but with some cuts in the spoken dialogue. What is included on the present disc is the complete music of Les Femmes Vengées. The libretto, available as a download, includes also the dialogue – and there is a tremendous lot of it. The Così/Femmes double bill must have made a long evening indeed.

Certainly it is entertaining judging by the present recording. The nice, melodious overture invites us to a good hour of high-spirited singing and acting and there are several catchy arias and ensembles. Madame Riss’s opening aria Femmes charmantes is truly inviting as is the following, Ah, pauvres femmes. Claire Debono sings very well but all the singers are excellent, not least Pascale Beaudin as Madame la Présidente, whose aria De la coquette volage (tr. 12) is grand, as befits her rank. She has also lots of coloratura, which she negotiates brilliantly. Before that Madame Lek and Monsieur Riss sing a duet with a really beautiful melody. Blandine Staskiewicz’s Madame Lek is great too. After a series of complications all the six characters come together in a vaudeville (tr. 15) when all problems are solved.

A wholly charming and entertaining comedy that should appeal to most opera lovers. If you find following the 40-page libretto with all the unrecorded spoken dialogue a too strenuous prospect, it may be comforting to know that the booklet has a rather detailed synopsis which gives enough information to allow you to follow the proceedings.

A wholly charming and entertaining comedy that should appeal to most opera lovers.

Göran Forsling
Previous review: Brian Wilson



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