Reynaldo Hahn: Ciboulette
Julie Fuchs (Ciboulette), Jean-François Lapointe (Duparquet), Julien Behr (Antonin), Eva Ganizate (Zénobie), Ronan Debois (Roger), Cécile Achille (Françoise), Jean-Claude Sarragosse (Monsieur Grenu), Guillemette Laurens (Madame Grenu), Patrick Kabongo Mubenga (August, Victor), François Rougier (Le Patron, Le Maire), Safir Behloul (Grisard), Bernadette Lafont (Madame Pingret), Michel Fau (La Comtesse de Castiglione), Jérôme Deschamps (Le Directeur de l’Opéra), accentus, Christophe Grapperon (chorus master), Orchestre symphonique de l’Opéra de Toulon, Laurence Equilbey (conductor), Michel Fau (stage director), Bernard Fau & Citronelle Dufay (set designers), David Belugou (costume designer), Joël Fabing (lighting designer), Cécile Roussat (movement collaborator), Pascale Fau (make-up designer), François Roussillon (film director)
A co-production by Opéra Comique, in co-production with Opéra Théâtre de Saint-Etienne, Opéra Comique, Paris, France (February 20 and 22, 2013) – 145’ ^
Naxos 2.110697 (or Blu-ray NBD0134V) – PCM Stereo and CTS 5.1 – NTSC 16:9 – Region 0 – DVD 9 – (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English and French – Subtitles in French, English, German, Japanese and Korean
Reynaldo Hahn’s career in music was prodigious and special. Tapping into virtually every genre, the Venezuelan-Parisian is best known for his opérette, Ciboulette, which premiered on April 7, 1923 at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris. The Opéra Comique lays the foundation for Hahn’s first operatic work, L’Ile du rêve which premiered in 1898, only to fast forward 25 years later with Ciboulette. Literally translated, “Chives”, Ciboulette has recently seen a resurgence in France beginning with a new production in 2013, followed by a first issue on DVD in 2015 and a stage reprise that same year.
While Ciboulette glances towards Emmanuel Chabrier and his œuvres such as, Le Roi malgré lui and L’Etoile, Hahn had a two-tiered complexity: humor atop, sentimentality and directness beneath. Reynaldo Hahn had a knack of adding only a few bars to give slivers of tenderness, only to whittle away in a moment’s notice. It only takes a visit to Bru Zane’s recording of Complete Songs to reveal those subjects which resonated in the Venezuelan’s heart.
Back in 1921 playwright Robert de Flers approached Hahn to compose music for a new operetta, Ciboulette, based on a libretto that M. de Flers co-created with Francis de Croisset. Hahn was more drawn to Duparquet’s character rather than Ciboulette or Antonin. Having had a fill of poetry and love [pulled from Puccini’s La bohème] Duparquet (here, beautifully sung by Jean-François Lapointe) gives Ciboulette sobriety by suddenly slamming on the brakes in Act II. Bernard Fau’s Parisian sepia rooftops backdrop “Je l’ai aimée à la folie” during which Ciboulette listens intently. Duparquet is the “Dolly Levi of the 19th century”, acting the role as a fairy godfather who guides the two protagonists (ref: Massenet’s La Fée from Cendrillon) to eventual bliss.
Ciboulette’s cast is sterling. Julie Fuchs’ Ciboulette is vocally superb: witty, sharp-tongued, feisty, sincere, seductive (à la Conchita Ciboulero), vulnerable [at times] and endearing. Mlle Fuchs maneuvers and superbly finesses her Ciboulette: while one foot is rooted in simplicity (via the vegetable and cabbage fields) with an innocent naïveté, the other foot is grounded with her “smarts” that are quick to finagle the icebergs ahead. Julien Behr elicits a chuckle or two as the dim-witted, not-so-intelligent Antonin, yet the pathos for the character grows by leaps and bounds. Huskiness of Bernadette Lafont’s voice as the fishmonger character, Madame Pingret, adds a hilarious “fishy boot” to the quick-paced dialogue as she prognosticates Ciboulette’s fortuitous outcome. Eva Ganizate’s Zénobie is the perfect demanda, obsessing over her papillon, Rafaëla. [Interestingly, Hahn manages to add a couple of bars from Massenet’s Manon during her conversation with Duparquet...Hahn was also a close friend of Massenet's.] And while the richly-voiced Guillemette Laurens struggles, volumetrically, as she delves into her cavernous notes opening Act II, the opening of Act III, paired with Jean-Claude Sarragosse, has an American reminisce of Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Patrick Kabongo Mubenga handles his August and Victor with grand flair.
Act III’s closing arguments, featuring pianist, director and starlit singer, are downright dead pan and funny. The tête-à-tête between off-key Michel Fau (as the La Comtesse de Castiglione) and the indisposed (prior to the opening of the opéra) Jérôme Deschamps is fun and innocent and generates loads of chuckles!
Laurence Equilbey’s conducting could have used a stronger dose of verve, yet the overall impact isn’t diminished by any great magnitude. Scenically, Bernard Fau’s and Citronelle Dufay’s sepia-colored sets remark upon the time which are magnified by the lovely palette provided in costuming by David Belugou. Joël Fabing’s lighting touches are brilliant...in a muted grey landscape, yet the color turns vibrant every time Ciboulette enters the stage...tasteful, indeed!
^ On an aside: the original release featured a 31 minute bonus track. This is a shame that Naxos would choose to obviate these remarks, as this may add more detail and comprehension into Reynaldo Hahn’s ever-popular score.