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Posts Tagged ‘Adam’s Le Postillon de Lonjumeau’

Adolphe Adam’s claim to fame is the ballet Giselle, but for a while he was also known – in France and in Germany – as the composer of the tenor aria with a written high d  from an opera called Le Postillon de Lonjumeau. It has been famously recorded by Nicolai Gedda, but also by Helge Rosvaenge and Joseph Schmidt. However, the opera itself has very rarely been performed. Curiously, the occasional stagings would appear even in Germany but not in the venue of its première, the Opéra-Comique, where it was last heard in 1894 before today’s performance.

Of course, this opera’s raison d’être is the tenor, and the long-standing relation between the Salle Favart and American tenor Michael Spyres explains this long due revival, and all involved are to be thanked for unearthing this hidden gem. To say that the plot is convoluted in an understatement. Chapelou is a coachman in the town of Lonjumeau who is too proud of his personal charm and his singing voice. It is the day of his wedding with the beautiful innkeeper Madeleine, a scout from the Royal Opera happens to hear him and promises fame and success in Paris. He does not think twice and abandons his wife before the honeymoon. Ten years later, they would meet again in court. She has received an inheritance and is now a glamorous socialite with whom he falls in love without realizing he is already married to her. Shocked by his complete oblivion of her, Madeleine decides to encourage him and, when he proposes, she accepts it as part of her revenge. When he is about to be taken by the police for bigamy, she decides that the whole thing has gone too far and reveals herself. He is overwhelmed by his own luck, but she reminds him that he had left her for the theatre before . His answer is “and now I am leaving the theatre for you”.

The score does not loose time with pretentiousness – everything is glittery, catchy and endearingly quaint. The second act has its best music, with wonderfully witty parodies of grand opéra for both tenor and soprano.

This is the first time I hear Michael Spyres live and it could not be a more relevant occasion. Mr. Spyres has made his name singing impossibly florid music and for his supernatural ease with in alts. Although his high extension is based on a very well connected falsettone stretching roughly from a high b flat to a high f above tenor’s high c, the main part of his voice is rich and warm, and his low register is surprisingly solid. In this moment of his career (he has recently sung operas like Carmen and Fidelio), he still can shift to his special-effect lighter and brighter high notes, but one feels that his “regular” voice is dying to blossom. This evening, he sang his aria’s high d without flinching and offered all kind of optional high notes, even higher than that, but one or other high c seemed to fall in the wrong slot and grated a bit. When I write this, I mean no criticism – it was a fabulous performance – but as a promising sign of development in his repertoire. Mr. Spyres is an extremely musical singer, with crystal-clear diction, sense of style, perfect trills and the sense of vocal narcissism so rare these days. He spoke his lines in good French and proved to have sense of humor too.

The role of Madeleine may sound secondary, but it is actually as difficult as the tenor one. It requires a high coloratura soprano, and the most recent complete recording features no one less than June Anderson. I was not able to find a copy before the performance and got acquainted with the work in Jules Gressier’s CD with Janine Micheau. Canadian soprano Florie Valiquette cannot compete with the famous French lyric soprano in creaminess and roundness. Hers is a very high voice, almost soubrettish and it simply lacked tone in its middle register, but her fioriture are more nimble and exciting than her predecessor’s. She managed very well to show the difference between Madeleine the innkeeper and Madeleine the heiress in purely musical terms too.

Under the expert baton of conductor Sébastien Rouland, the chorus Accentus and the orchestra of Opéra de Rouen Normandie were entirely at home in this music, and Michel Fau’s supercolorful pseudo-baroque staging was funny without making fun of the text and the music.

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