Boismortier Don Quichotte chez la Duchesse
The late French baroque composer Boismortier is chiefly known for his attractive and accommodatingly written sonatas and concertos for a variety of instruments, above all flute, violin and bassoon. Nowadays he is hardly recognizable at all for his vocal music and, though a performance of this three-act ballet comique was given in London some 25 years ago it has not, as far as I know, surfaced since then either here, or perhaps anywhere else. That is until Herve Niquet and his enterprising ensemble, Le Concert Spirituel, recorded the work last year.
Boismortier’s comic ballet, with a libretto by Favart, received its premiere in 1743 and was his first work for the Paris Opera. The cast was a starry one, and included the soprano Marie Fel, the celebrated danseuse “La Camargo”, who had appeared in the premiere of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, ten years earlier, and the dancer Louis Dupre, best remembered as the teacher of the great Noverre. The piece lasts only an hour or so and therefore was given as part of a double-bill; the other work was Mouret’s Les amours de Ragonde ou la soiree de village.
Favart based his libretto on a splendidly mischievous episode recounted in the second book of Cervantes’s epic poem. In it, the Knight of the Lions and his squire, Sancho Panza, are subjected to a variety of preposterous and, in one instance, extremely uncomfortable practical jokes. Once read, never forgotten, but I should add that Boismortier’s music, modest in its aim, is very engaging and provides an effective foil to Favart’s text with its ‘apparent’ monster, who gives a ferocious roar at the conclusion of the overture, its sorcery, disguise and diversion. For all this Boismortier, mirroring the simpler rococo taste of the time, provided charming airs, supple choruses and many invigorating dances.
What more enticement is needed? The cast is stylish and conveys the spirit of Cervantes and Favart with evident relish. The score is a delight from start to finish and makes me long to hear the composer’s pastorale, Daphnis et Chloe, first performed four years after Don Quichotte, but which shares with the earlier piece several of its most beguiling dances. There is certainly more to Boismortier than all those morceaux favoris for flutes, hurdy-gurdys and the like would suggest. Hugely entertaining, with an unexpected reappearance of the monster – not in the score – after the concluding chaconne. It sounds as if the cast was as startled by its roar as I was. Go and buy it without delay!'