Adolphe Adam: Le Chalet
Sébastien Droy (Daniel), Jodie Devos (Bettly), Ugo Rabec (Max), Jean Delobel (A soldier), Chœur et Orchestre Symphonique de l’Opéra de Toulon, Christophe Bernollin (chorus master), Guillaume Tourniaire (conductor)
Recording: Palais Neptune, Toulon, France (September 6-9, 2016) – 70’16
Timpani 1C1242 – Booklet in French and English
Though best known for his ballet, Giselle, Adolphe Adam’s contributions to mid-19th century French comic opera were vast. And despite greater world-wide familiarity with his Le Postillon de Longjumeau holding fortune in the French repertoire, the silent gem, Le Chalet, has been neglected. There’s good reason for Timpani to record Le Chalet since it has great potential. When looking back at history, one finds the opéra comique was performed more than 1,500 times in the 19th century. This statistic, at the very minimum, makes the opera worthy of re-discovery.
This recording, executed a week ahead of a live concert version at the Opéra de Toulon, is exceptional, not only for the directorship under Maestro Guillaume Tourniaire, but for also giving an incisive hard copy presentation and a well thought-out English translation by John Tyler Tuttle. Le Chalet’s lengthy dialogue has been rewritten [truncated], yet the booklet contains the libretto (including dialogue.)
Helping delve into Le Chalet, it’s fitting to ponder M. Adam’s quote from Le Constitutionnel in 1855: ”I hardly have any other ambition, in my theatre music, than to make it clear, easy to understand, and amusing for the audience.” The music is fun, approachable and pithy to the core. Scribe’s and Mélesville’s libretto is pivotal in making the opéra comique succeed, bearing more alignment to Vaudevillian repartee (with anticipations of Offenbach), especially when templated beneath Adam’s music. [In reading the English translation, some of the narrative is hilarious.]
The sparkling “Ouverture’s” first notes (written for French horn and flute) confer Italianate shadowing of Guillaume Tell (1829) though, orchestrally, there’s more overall dominance under Donizetti (and geographically akin to La Fille du régiment.) Gallic temperament prevails, and one can see emphasis of Adam’s mentor, Boieldieu, along with strong influences by François Auber.
A plot involving only three characters, the capture is first-rate. Sébastien Droy elicits the foolish innocence of Daniel [Birman] with softness and warmth, though the line of tightness in his vibrato gets a tad rangy, and he occasionally gets drowned out by the orchestra. Nonetheless, one draws pathos, and we are smitten by his buoyantly simple sincerity and youthful charm.
His love interest, Bettly [Sterner], is delightfully portrayed by Belgian Jodie Devos. This soprano’s tessitura is well-situated for Adam’s score in which she comes across as a feisty, cocky Appenzell farmer, though she abruptly becomes more contrite after the briskly-paced ensemble, “Le dîner est servi!” Her precise chirpiness indirectly glances at Mady Mesplé, and they’re several tricky passages Adolphe Adam created for her character. Consensus shows that notes are clearly addressed with buttery pliancy; clarity is unquestionable and rarely found in an operatic voice.
Ugo Rabec has everything to crow about for the basso profundo is assured, stalwart and supportively masculine as he sings the role of Max. His militaristic declaration, in partnership with support of Toulon Opéra’s male chorus, makes a resounding statement inside the catchy, bubbly “Par cet étroit” (ref: Auber’s Manon Lescaut) set against a periodically crescendo snare drum. Together with M. Droy, the fleeting Rossini patter found within the passage, “Il faut me céder ta maîtresse”, is still impeccably precise. Adam’s most substantial music was crafted for Max, and during his best known aria, “Vallons de l’Helvétie”, M. Rabec captures demonstrative heft with benevolent, affected ego. On a more grave front, his weighty and stately stature could fit inside any of Gounod’s opéras.
Blending of Toulon Opéra’s choir and orchestra possesses immeasurable warmth and popping musical phrases. Timpani has done great justice to Adolphe Adam by honoring him with this premiére release.