OPERA NEWS - Les Mousquetaires au Couvent
From Development server
In Review > International

Les Mousquetaires au Couvent

Opéra Comique

In Review Mousuetaires hdl 915
Comic perspective: Mousquetaires in Paris
© Pierre Grosbois

THE OPÉRA COMIQUE will close its doors for eighteen months of renovation at the end of the present season — a season that also ends the mandate of director Jérôme Deschamps, who has reached the statutory retirement age of sixty-five. Over eight seasons, he has presented a faultless variety of repertoire, ranging from the Baroque to contemporary creations, but his most significant contribution has been to bring back to the Parisian public a largely forgotten repertoire of opéras comiquesand operettas. It was only fitting that Deschamps should end his time at the house with his own production of Louis Varney’s Les Mousquetaires au Couvent, a staging that began its life in Lausanne. Laurent Campellone conducted the orchestra of the Toulon opera house, where the production is scheduled to be seen at Christmas.

Deschamps set the tone of the evening by appearing as an absurd Humpty Dumpty governor, owing something to the surreal characters of his television series Les Deschiens. It was a justifiable indulgence for his final production, and the public responded warmly on June 19. The dialogue was updated, and designer Laurent Peduzzi set the work in a toyland of primary colors. Many of the gags had been heard and seen before, but few attendees could resist the humor of the fast-moving show. It also provided an opportunity to hear this once popular operetta by Varney (1844–1908), which had its premiere at the Théâtre des Bouffes–Parisiens in 1880, the year of Offenbach’s death. Varney lacked the genius of Offenbach, but his score for Mousquetaires is nonetheless an elegant feast of melodic invention and crisply articulated ensembles. 

From the opening notes, Campellone showed that he has no equals in this repertoire, drawing fizzy, clearly articulated playing from the orchestra and enthusiastic singing from Les Cris de Paris chorus. This was an evening that danced and charmed the audience with irresistible nostalgic energy. The work’s anticlerical fun has never seemed more relevant than now, when France’s secular status is sorely tried. Two musketeers disguise themselves as pilgrims to gain access to an Ursuline convent to prevent the governor’s nieces from taking the veil. This leads to a drunken sermon exalting the virtues of free love, a crucified figure, who leaps down from the cross for a lunch break, and a lively coven of naughty novices under the stern leadership of Nicole Monestier’s campy Mother Superior and mistress of comic timing Doris Lamprecht’s Sister Opportune.

The academy of young singers set up by the Opéra Comique has been another positive achievement of the house. Soprano Anne-Marine Suire as Marie, one of the nieces, showed the high quality of the young generation, bringing sweet intensity to her charming romance and contrasting nicely with the firmly projected mezzo of Antoinette Dennefeld, cast as her sister Louise. The philandering musketeers were Sébastien Guèze as Gontran de Solanges and Marc Canturri as Narcisse de Brissac. Guèze has a heroic ring to his tenor and displayed an endearing sense of fun, including a cheeky imitation of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, although this gifted young singer still needs to refine his undisciplined vocal technique. Canturri has panache but insufficient baritone ease on high for the vocally demanding range of his music. The best performances of the evening came from baritone Franck Leguérinel, whose pandering Abbé Bridaine was ripely sung and precisely timed, and soprano Anne-Catherine Gillet, who sang and danced with real star quality as the down-to-earth village girl, Simone. —Stephen J. Mudge 

Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.

Follow OPERA NEWS on FacebookTwitter Button