Cosma Marius et Fanny (highlights)

Highlights from a new opera based on a classic of the French cinema

Author: 
John Steane

Cosma Marius et Fanny (highlights)

  • Marius et Fanny

“Ah yes, I remember it well”: meaning, of course, that I’ve forgotten almost everything about it. Pagnol’s trilogy featured annually at the Arts Cinema 60 years ago, and we all trooped in, making our pilgrimage to Notre Dame de la Garde, and came out declaring it unforgettable. Well, a puff of ship’s smoke, a whiff of garlic and it’s all gone.

So I can’t say how Vladimir Cosma’s score and the work of his six librettists compares with their originals, or whether Angela Gheorghiu, Roberta Alagna and Jean-Philippe Lafont live up to their predecessors who (the books tell me, but the booklet does not) were Orane Demazis, Pierre Fresnay and Raimu. Nor, I’m afraid, does the issue of this single disc provide grounds for an opinion on the success of the opera (for that is what it is) on its own merits. All we have here is what is generally known as “highlights”, and it is much to be hoped that the complete opera gains from the kind of atmospheric writing that may lie in the less vocally prominent parts of the score. The musical idiom is melodic, emotionally tender-passionate, nostalgic-sad. I didn’t catch reminiscences of Puccini but one feels he might have leapt at the scenario. Instead, the influence seems to be primarily film music of the De Sica era, not surprising as Cosma, best known for his work in Diva, is credited with some 200 film scores. As heard here, it registers as “a show” rather than a work with the emotional reality of a La bohème or indeed a West Side Story. But the total experience might be different, and what we have is attractive enough to make one wish to find out.

Gheorghiu sings beautifully, which is more than can be said of anyone else. Alagna (characterising well) sounds as though his voice is badly in need of a rest. All is vivid and the orchestral playing, under the composer’s direction, is excellent.

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