Well, well. It was Hahn who edited the score of Rameau’s Les fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour, the opéra-ballet that I reviewed in December. Now he crops up in his own right. There were many facets to Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947): pupil of Massenet, close friend of Proust, composer, conductor, singer. But he is best known today as the composer of Ciboulette, a late recreation of the world of Offenbach.
Hahn’s opérette, set in 1867, features an innocent 21-year-old orphan who sells vegetables at Les Halles, the market – long gone now – in Paris. The story is absurd but charming. Ciboulette lives with her aunt and uncle but has a father-figure in Duparquet. The uncle, M Grenu, has lined up eight suitors for her, none of whom she cares for. She has also acquired a ‘mother’ in the fishmonger Mme Pingret, who predicts marriage with another man, subject to three conditions. This is Antonin, a rich boulevardier, whom she gets once he has broken finally with Zénobie, who is anyway more attracted to Roger, a captain in the hussars. The only sad figure is Duparquet, who turns out to be Rodolphe, still mourning his Mimi 30 years on.
Hahn doesn’t echo La bohème but he does quote briefly – words and music – from Massenet’s Manon when Roger greets Zénobie with ‘Toi! Vous!’. One of the most attractive numbers is the duet for Antonin and Ciboulette in the first scene, which Julie Fuchs and Julien Behr sing with an artless simplicity perfectly suited to the music. Fuchs is a find: a notable successor to the likes of Géori Boué and Mady Mesplé, with a good sense of comic timing.
The scenery and costumes are delightful, and all goes swimmingly under Laurence Equilbey till the last act, when Michel Fau, the producer, appears in drag and sings falsetto; while the spoken role of Olivier Métra, the real-life composer, is replaced by that of an Opera Director, played by the director of the Opéra Comique. I remained stony-faced but the audience loved it. The production can be seen in Paris in April and May: sadly without Bernardette Lafont and Eva Ganizate, who have both died.