"A Study in Contrasts": Op_ra-Comique Revives Andr_ Messager's Fortunio

Classic Arts Features   "A Study in Contrasts": Op_ra-Comique Revives Andr_ Messager's Fortunio
Paris' Op_ra-Comique opens its new season with a rare production of French composer Andr_ Messager's Fortunio. Frank Cadenhead was in attendance for a performance of the 1907 operetta, which ran through Dec. 21.


A study in contrasts, a wintery set of Fortunio sets off the hot-blooded intrigues of the story. This work, which first opened in the same theater in 1907, is part of the Comique's continuing work to spotlight neglected French music.

In Fortunio, based on a story by Alfred de Musset, Jacqueline, the young wife of a old notary, is having a secret affair with a dashing army captain. A visiting young man is also struck by her beauty and enlists as a clerk to the notary. Fortunio's shy but intense passion attracts the attention of, and finally wins the heart of, the young lady. In the final scene, he ducks into the orchestra pit when the husband and captain search her bedroom. Clearly the victor, Fortunio emerges next to the conductor to triumphantly conduct the final bars.

An important figure in the Parisian scene during his lifetime, Messager's saucy comedy has loads of attractive music and wise reflections on love. Denis Podalyds (from the Com_die-Fran‹aise) has a light but sure theatrical touch, directing the cast with just the right amount of bounce.

Jean-Marie Fr_meau sings the blustery notary, MaêÎtre Andr_, with brio and baritone Jean-S_bastien Bou is ideal as the swaggering Captain Clavaroche. Soprano Virginie Pochon, as Jacqueline, took a few minutes to find her style but then sings with youthful flair. Particularly impressive was rising-star tenor Joseph Kaiser in the title role. His shy clerk could, sometimes in the same aria, be transformed into the most ardent suitor. With a voice of appropriate polish and warmth of tone, his performance suggests a major talent has arrived on the international scene. Both he and his philosophic pal in the opera, fellow Canadian Jean-Fran‹ois Lapointe as Laundry, were able to match the diction of the French natives in the other roles since there was much spoken dialogue. The many secondary roles were cast at a remarkably high level.

The Orchestre de Paris was in the pit, and conductor Louis Langr_e took some time to find the right balance between the Formula I race car he was conducting and the Comique's delicate acoustics. Langr_e, now with a major international career, is seldom seen in France but his familiar way with the French musical style was a major part of the evening's arresting charm. Another advantage of being in Paris: you can sometimes convince opera fan Christian Lacroix to create the costumes.

Messager's accessible, appealing and graceful music evokes the pleasure loving "Belle ê_poque" in France. The looming catastrophes of the Twentieth Century seem ever so far away.

One of the impressive features of each production at the Comique is the "mini-festival" surrounding the production. Interspersed between the performance dates are concerts for the young public, talks, and two concerts by the Orchestre OstinatO and two recitals of French songs by young soprano Salom_ Haller and that grande dame of art song, Felicity Lott, all featuring music by Messager and his contemporaries.

The opera will be broadcast on France Musique January 5 and further details of the season can be found at www.opera-comique.com.

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All photos by Elisabeth Carecchio.

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