François-André Danican Philidor: Sancho Pança, gouverneur dans l’île de Barataria
Darren Perry (Sancho Pança), Elizabeth Calleo (Thérèse/Governess), Karim Sulayman (Lope Tocho/The Farmer/The Barber), Meghan McCall (Juliette/The Shepherdess/A Country-woman), Tony Boutté (The Doctor/Don Crispinos/The Tailor), Eric Christopher Black (Torillos/The Prosecutor), Andrew Sauvageau (A Country-man), Opera Lafayette Orchestra, Ryan Brown (Conductor and Artistic Director)
Recording: Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland (May 25-26, 2010) – 57’ 11
Naxos # 8.660274 – Booklet in English
If ever a man exists who’s on a mission to tightly hone in on and re explore the wonders of a particular musical class, it would be Ryan Brown. The violinist/chamber musician turned conductor founded Opera Lafayette in 1995 as a means to resurrect baroque operas in The United States with weighted emphasis on the French repertoire. From Lully to Monsigny to Rebel-Francoeur, Brown now turns his attention to the little known gem, Sancho Pança gouverneur dans l’île de Barataria (1762) by François-André Danican Philidor in this magical Naxos recording.
Known for promulgating and refining opéra-comique, Philidor made his entrée in a roundabout way by not being able to initially break the barrier into the Opéra. Despite this rejection, however, Philidor became prolific in this genre, showing distinct originality (arguably by contemporaries) and tight scoring under the paucity of an economical orchestra. His librettist, Antoine-Alexandre-Henri Poinsinet, extracted the specific slice of Chapters 42 to 55 from Miguel de Cervantes’ novel, Don Quixote as the foundation for the music. That meticulous selection translates beautifully into Philidor’s music.
For an opéra-comique clocking in at just under an hour, there’s a lot to digest. We jump immediately into the story without an overture. The music is taut, descriptive and sung by Opera Lafayette with modest emotional coloring that comfortably exemplifies the point.
Darren Perry impresses the absurdities of Sancho Pança without overstepping boundaries. During the duel with Don Crispinos, “Une, deux”, both Perry’s and Tony Boutté’s voices mesh with an aesthetic flair. Elizabeth Calleo measures precision and unblemished clarity as Sancho’s wife, Thérèse. The vocal acumens of Meghan McCall as Juliette are sweet, lyrical and pristine, particularly in her aria, “Je vais seulette” where she executes the most marvelous acciaccatura dynamics. One can hear strains of Mozart permeating the score, well highlighted in Sancho’s ‘ball’ aria, “Je suis comme une pauve boule.” The orchestra plays an integral part in magnifying the singers’ feelings; their execution is excellent and demonstrably clear.
Give “three cheers” to Ryan Brown and his accomplished artists. Philidor’s Sancho Pança is brilliantly captured on this Naxos CD. The acoustics are stellar and even more so when listening on headsets. Words chosen by Brown in his forward and synopsis are pithy and comprehensive. One can download the entire libretto via the Naxos website, but it’s a bit of a conundrum: while the recording is sung in French, the libretto is solely translated in English, thus no side-by-side French/English. This is a grave omission; nonetheless, it doesn’t detract from all of the other positives.
At the time of this writing, Opera Lafayette Orchestra is heading to Versailles to perform Monsigny’s Le Roi et le Fermier…quite ironic for this locale is where Philidor received his musical training by André Campra as a child. This is a fantastic recording for those geared to baroque music. Highly recommended.