BIZET Le Docteur Miracle
Le Docteur Miracle, Bizet’s second opera, came about as the result of a competition. Six composers from a list of 78 applicants were invited to set a new libretto by Léon Battu and Ludovic Halévy. The first prize was shared by Bizet and Charles Lecocq: their entries were performed in April 1857 at the Bouffes-Parisiens, whose founder, Offenbach, was the moving spirit behind the competition. Eleven performances were given alternately of each opera; both were well received but it’s interesting to note that it was the Lecocq that was performed first.
Le Docteur Miracle is an opéra comique consisting of an overture and six numbers, with spoken dialogue accounting for a quarter of the duration. The Podestat violently disapproves of Captain Silvio as a suitor to his daughter Laurette. Silvio enters disguised as the new servant, Pasquin, and cooks a disgusting omelette. Chased from the house when his identity is revealed, he writes a letter saying that he poisoned the omelette. Terrified, the Podestat sends for a quack camped outside the house. Docteur Miracle – Silvio, of course – promises to cure the Podestat, provided he can marry Laurette…and the rest you can deduce. The fourth character is Véronique, Laura’s stepmother, who has a running gag about her previous husbands.
Bizet’s music is light and tuneful, if on the long-winded side. The excellent overture,full of piquant modulations, deserves to be heard as a concert piece. The longest number is the quartet during which the omelette is presented, discussed, sampled and execrated. Bizet is mocking the conventions of grand opera – the Podestat interrupts the ensemble with an aria – but it’s all only mildly amusing. Samuel Jean gets neat playing from his Orchestre Lyrique de Région Avignon Provence, so typically French in its mouthful of a name. Pierre-Yves Pruvot blusters effectively as the Podestat, and Jérôme Billy, rather thin of tone, makes an engaging Silvio. The best singing comes from Marie-Bénédicte Souquet, touching in her Romance. The uncredited translation in the booklet, strewn with misprints, is by Rollo H Myers. Not essential listening, but a pleasant hour nonetheless.