BWW Review: Chabrier's EDUCATION Makes for a Charming but 'Incomplete' Evening from Opera Lafayette
There's a great Scottish word that came to mind while I was watching Emmanuel Chabrier's one-act French operetta, UNE EDUCATION MANQUÉE (AN INCOMPLETE EDUCATION), this past weekend by Washington, DC's Opera Lafayette at the French Institute-Alliance Francaise in New York. It's "twee," which roughly translates to "affectedly dainty" or "quaint." The French don't seem to have an equivalent; the closest I could come up with is "mignon," which means "cute" and doesn't quite fit the bill for this very slight-yet-charming piece of Gallic fluff.
Oh, there was some lovely music in it--Chabrier was indeed a 19th-century master-- and the singers were polished and delightful, as usual from this company that specializes in presenting "rediscovered masterpieces," focusing on "the French 18th century opera repertoire and its precursors, influences and artistic legacy." Indeed, there's certainly room for this part of the repertoire and it would have served well as a curtain-raiser to something a bit more substantial...but it was hardly un steak dinner on its own, despite the efforts of the cast, under director Bernard Deletré and conductor Ryan Brown, the company's Artistic Director.
Here, an overture and six songs composed by Chabrier to poetry of Rosemonde Gerard opened the performance (I hesitate to call it an evening, for it lasted a scant hour between the songs and operetta), recast to show the developing relationship of a young couple from childhood to the youthful marriage of UNE EDUCATION MANQUÉE. Of these, I found "Les Cigales" (The Cicadas) particularly enchanting, done by soprano Amel Brahim-Djelloul with a lilt and lucid tone.
Brahim-Djelloul was also entrusted with the pants role of Gontran in the operetta to great effect. Gontran's education is the one that's incomplete: His tutor, Pausanias (sung and acted boisterously by baritone Dominique Coté) has taught him about science but not about sex--an inconvenient omission considering that the action takes place on the wedding day of Gontran and his bride, Hélène (the delightful soprano Sophie Junker, in fine voice). That's the plot, and all's well that ends well, without a doubt, with the young marrieds (with apologies to Irving Berlin) "doin' what comes naturally."
Essential to the performance's success was Jeffrey Watson on piano, who propelled the work along with a careful eye on the performers, including a gaggle of youngsters in the songs: Bella Deocares Brandenburg, Sofia Brunetti, Sami Sidi-Boumedine and Franco Cabanas.
Chacun á son goût, I suppose, and I look forward to Opera Lafayette's evening of opera excerpts from the French Revolution, based on Greek the tragedies, SAPHO, MEDÉE and OEDIPE À COLONE, in New York on May 1, after a performance in Washington, DC, on April 29.