OFFENBACH Colorature: Jodie Devos
There’s no getting away from the fact that an entire album of wall-to-wall Offenbachian coloratura, a festival of the chanteuse d’agilité popping high Ds and E flats and even straight Es like they were going out of fashion, is not everyone’s idea of perfect heaven – especially without the context and counterbalance of the complete operettas, most of which now languish in obscurity awaiting a kindly revival. The idea of dipping into a collection such as this (as one might a box of luxury chocolates) would be more realistic to some – myself included.
But the exponent here – Jodie Devos – is a charming and devilishly virtuoso singer and if anyone can make a case for polishing off the entire collection in one sitting it is her. Plus one cannot ever underestimate the influential genius of Offenbach, whose satirical touch, his way with comedy and derision and the obligatory high-kicking buffo elements, is repeatedly offset with the tender and the beguiling. A quiet way of being showy, if you like.
The main thing to say about Devos – and her thoroughly idiomatic partner-in-frolic, Laurent Campellone – is that she (and this is a huge compliment) delivers all that is required of her, and more, with the apparent ease of one who knows how important it is to conceal the difficulty. The real kicker with this album is the way in which number after number springs its surprises. The vocal pyrotechnics are artfully designed to make one’s jaw hit the floor.
So Devos kick-starts proceedings with the first of three numbers from Boule de neige (unfamiliar perchance?) in which a ubiquitous Olga tells of an exotic land ‘where the gazelle bounds, where the hummingbird glitters in the golden rays of the sun’ and does so with the explosive glee of a bottle of bubbly that has been vigorously shaken. Her first D above top C is delivered. Then there is Vert-Vert and a wonderfully cynical number in which the show-off chanteuse – this is a song about a singer – brazenly mocks her uncultivated audiences while handing out the popping-candy they so crave.
From a clutch of waltz songs are two that caught my ear: one from Un mari à la porte and another from Robinson Crusoé, both eminently catchy and high-wire brilliant. The tunes are, of course, delicious and after one hearing I can’t get the refrain from the Les bavards number out of my head. Personally, because I am a sucker for ballads, my favourites are Elsbeth’s Romance from Fantasio (recently revived in the UK) – one to revisit again and again (a number sitting squarely in the domain of the fully fledged lyric soprano) – and the ‘Romance des fleurs’ from Le roi Carotte, whose vocal line beguiles and charms every which way.
The two big ‘hits’ from Les contes d’Hoffmann are included, of course. I could have done without yet another Barcarolle (Devos joined here by mezzo Adèle Charvet) but hearing Devos dispatch Olympia’s corker of a showstopper – this doll never needs rewinding (or new batteries) – will likely leave a smile on your face for the rest of the day.