Grétry - L'amant jaloux

Opéra Comique, Paris, Wednesday March 17 2010

Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer. Production, Pierre-Emmanuel Rousseau. Sets: Thibaut Welchlin. Costumes: Pierre-Emmanuel Rousseau and Claudine Crauland. Léonore: Magali Léger. Isabelle: Daphné Touchais: Jacinte: Maryline Fallot. Florival: Frédéric Antoun. Don Alonze: Brad Cooper. Don Lopez: Vincent Billier. Le Cercle de l’Harmonie.

L'amant jaloux, ou Les fausses apparences, is a classic, inconsequential three-act comedy involving an ageing father, his eligible daughter and her best friend, a crafty servant, two penniless suitors, a serenade with mandolin accompaniment, people hiding behind doors by day or at night in gazebos, and mistaken identities (“les fausses apparences”).

According to Wikipedia: “The rich merchant Don Lopez does not want his young, widowed daughter Léonore to remarry. However, she is in love with [… note from Nigel: several lines cut …] Alonze finally recognises his sister. Alonze has just come into an inheritance which allows him to marry Léonore, and Florival marries Isabelle.” You get the gist.

It contains a hint of Cosi and a fair foretaste of Le Nozze: “The musicologist David Charlton," says Wikipedia again, "claims Lorenzo da Ponte knew Grétry's opera and Mozart and his librettist were influenced by its ensembles when they wrote The Marriage of Figaro.” Grétry’s light-hearted piece only lasts a reasonable 80 minutes, however; having weightier questions to raise, Mozart and his librettist weren’t influenced at all by its length.

It’s the French version of a Singspiel, having lively and - still today - funny spoken dialogues interspersed with “ariettes,” and musically it mostly brings to mind Mozart in his popular, Papageno, “ditty” mode, or the Rossini of “Quando mi sei vicina, amabile Rosina.” I say mostly, however, as it also contains some set-piece arias of the “Come scoglio” kind and on the whole can’t be any easier to sing than Cosi fan tutte.

The youngish cast at the Salle Favart (in a production first aired last year in Versailles, where the work premiered in 1778 – I read somewhere it was a favourite of Marie-Antoinette’s) acted and sang with conviction, making it a good evening’s entertainment, so I won’t complain if the sopranos weren’t actually up to Cosi, the contemporary equivalents, say, of a Rita Streich - or Mady Mesplé, who appears to have recorded this piece some years back. Alagna has also recorded an aria.

The best of the bunch was Frédéric Antoun. I’ve been told he’s good in Rameau; I wonder if he can handle Rossini’s Lindoro? There was something of the Florez in his timbre last night and he has looks and swashbuckling presence. The orchestra was a touch ropey, but again, we were all having a good time so why complain?

It was a simple, pretty production, with flat, lightly-coloured engravings of Louis XVI interiors (lots of fluted columns, cartouches and garlands) for sets and a trellised summer house for the last act, at night in the garden. The costumes were good too, especially the girls’: embroidered silk over masses of fuchsia and tangerine tulle.

My first Grétry and, so long as they don’t get any longer, I wouldn’t mind some more.

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