OFFENBACH Un Mari à la porte
Even after success with Orphée aux enfers, Offenbach continued to produce the light-hearted one-act operettas that had earlier made his name. Licensing terms often restricted the number of performers, so that in Un mari à la porte (‘A Husband at the Door’) there are just three onstage – plus the husband of the title locked outside his apartment, whose key has been lost while a young composer is inside with the wife and her female friend.
Previously on CD we have separately had the work’s overture and – in a 1994 Decca collection of coloratura arias sung by Sumi Jo and conducted by Richard Bonynge – the work’s showpiece ‘Valse tyrolienne’ (Decca Eloquence, 9/94). Now Liverpool’s designation as 2008 European Capital of Culture makes it the unlikely source of the first complete commercial recording, taken from a performance on November 22, 2008. If the Liverpool orchestra and Russian conductor seems an unpromising combination, most importantly the singers and actors (the latter delivering the extensive dialogue) are from the European Opera Centre and are all native French-speakers.
The result is crisply performed, letting us savour fully the solos, duets and intricate ensembles that combine to joyous effect. Of the singers, mezzo-soprano Anaïk Morel and tenor Stéphane Malbec-Garcia are all that one might ask; but for this listener, at least, Gabrielle Philiponet’s sharp-edged soprano and strong vibrato make for less relaxing listening. Listening to Sumi Jo on that Decca anthology, it’s undeniable also that Bonynge provides a more refreshingly light and airy orchestral accompaniment than Petrenko.
As fillers, we have piano-accompanied performances of Offenbach’s typically witty settings of six fables of Jean de la Fontaine, which have previously appeared intermittently on CD. I reviewed a version by Bruno Laplante (Calliope, 4/81), while François Le Roux included them in a 1991 EMI CD of settings by a range of French composers. What appeals here is the way the songs are divided between different voices, with baritone Marc Canturri now coming centre stage in ‘The Crow and the Fox’. The sum total is an issue that agreeably extends the currently available Offenbach repertory.