Joseph Bodin de BOISMORTIER (1689-1755) Don Quichotte Chez La Duchesse
Chantal Santon Jeffery – Altisdore/The Queen of Japan
François-Nicolas Geslot - Don Quichotte
Marc Labonnette – Sancho Panza
Corinne Benizio – The Spanish Singer
Gilles Benizio – The Duke/The Japanese
Virgile Ancely – Montesinos/Merlin/The Translator
Marie-Pierre Wattiez – The Peasant
Agathe Boudet – A Lover/A Maidservant
Charles Barbier – A Lover
Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
Stage Direction: Corinne and Gilles Benizio (alias Shirley & Dino)
Directed by Louise Narboni
rec. L’Opéra Royal du Château de Versailles, 2015 ALPHA 711 DVD [117:00]
The music of Joseph Bodin de Boismortier seems to be something of a love affair for Hervé Niquet. He has produced some very fine recordings of this neglected composer's music, not least the first ever recording of this work for Naxos in 1996 (8.553647). He also refers in the booklet notes and in his introduction to the work on the DVD, to the fact that it was the first work performed by Le Concert Spirituel some 27 years before this production.
Having been born in the small town of Thionville in Lorraine, it was not until his family moved to Metz that Boismortier’s musical education began. There he studied with Joseph Valette de Montigny, who is remembered as a composer of motets. Boismortier was something of a musical outsider. He was one of the first French composers to make a living without the privilege of patronage, earning a royal warrant to engrave and publish music in 1724. He made his fortune from selling directly to the public.
Don Quichotte Chez La Duchesse is a real comic masterpiece of the French baroque. It is described by James R. Anthony in his book French Baroque Music: from Beaujoyeulx to Rameau, as one of the most important ‘lyric comedies’ of the period. One can easily see why this work was an instant success when first performed in 1743. Unfortunately this production will infuriate as many as it will enthral. Happily I am one of the latter. I always enjoyed the Naxos disc, but in comparison to this new DVD production it seems that the humour on the CD is more implied than present. It is the inclusion of new linking passages of dialogue, the originals sadly missing, which has resurrected this work to its rightful position. This new text transforms the work from a series of episodes into a whole complete work, one with a logical progression, and one where the comic element runs through. It is this that drives the story and the music. The vision of Hervé Niquet pleading to be allowed to conduct using a spear, singing and dancing on stage whilst dressed as a matador and singing a silly song about a train with members of the orchestra from the pit wall might be too much for some. However, it adds to the fun of this production and in no way detracts from it. This work could even be described as a ballet-pantomime, with the emphasis on the pantomime. There is even a ‘she’s behind you’ scene.
Of the singers, François-Nicolas Geslot is a breathy haute-contre or high tenor, a particularly French voice which is not to be confused with a counter-tenor. Whilst I prefer Stephan Van Dyke’s voice on the Naxos disc, I find Geslot’s performance in this new production more expressive. The soprano Chantal Santon Jeffery is excellent in the role of the Duchess and I really like Marc Labonnette’s portrayal of Sancho Panza. All the other singing soloists are in fine form, with some using their voice to heighten the comic aspect of the music. The musicians of Le Concert Spirituel, who are also called upon to make strange animal noises from the pit, should also be mentioned as too the dancers of Cie La Feuille D’Automne, all of whom help make this a colourful and enjoyable experience.