Lalo/Coquard: La Jacquerie
Radio France/Palazzetto Bru Zane (ES 1023)
Édouard Lalo wasn’t averse to a bit of recycling. He raided his 1868 opera Fiesque for both his Symphony in G minor and his most famous opera, Le Roi d’Ys. He later lifted four arias from it note for note for his third opera, La Jacquerie, recorded here for the first time. They all appear in Act 1, the only act which Lalo composed and partially orchestrated. After his death, Lalo’s family entrusted Arthur Coquard, a pupil of César Franck, to complete the opera which was given a successful première at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo in 1895-96, revived in Aix-les-Bains and Lyon before ending up at Paris’ Opéra-Comique later the same year.
However, La Jacquerie was then completely abandoned. In March of this year, a hastily rearranged itinerary following a grève générale prevented me from attending the first Parisian performance since 1896 (my Parisian colleague Julie Jozwiak kindly stepped in). During the previous July, however, France Musique recorded more or less the same forces in a concert performance in Montpellier, now issued by the ever-enterprising Palazzetto Bru Zane in its quest to revive little known gems of the French repertoire.
Based on Prosper Mérimée’s 1828 play, La Jacquerie deals with the 1358 uprisings – a ‘Jacques Bonhomme’ is a ‘Jack Goodfellow’, the ordinary “man in the street”. Robert is elected to lead the rebellion, despite the intervention of his mother, Jeanne. A love story across the social divide is added to the peasant revolt. We learn early on, in Robert’s lyric aria, about his encounter in Paris with a woman who tended his wounds. She turns out to be Blanche, daughter of the Comte de Sainte-Croix and pledged in marriage to the Baron de Sauvigny. Inevitably, Robert falls in love with her when he recognises her at the castle during the peasants’ revolt, and protects her from being killed. His actions are enough to condemn him as a traitor and both Robert and Blanche are hunted down. Just as the seigneurs arrive to save Blanche, Robert is stabbed and Blanche vows to enter a convent.
Lalo’s Act 1 flies past in just 22 minutes. Those readers who know Fiesque may spot Jeanne’s “L’enfant rêvait” instead of Léonore’s “J’avais rêvé”, as well as Blanche’s “Rêve insensé, coupable ivresse” instead of Léonore’s “Ah! je le sens, ce sont des larmes” (inexplicably cut in DG’s recording with Roberto Alagna). The rest of the opera is almost as compact. Coquard was at pains to replicate Lalo’s style, and included themes from Act 1 later on, composing in a pastiche style, but rather more strongly than Lalo himself. There is little fat in the score, other than a ballet of courtly dances to open Act 3, including a dainty farandole and a few ‘hey nonny nos’. La Jacquerie pays tribute to Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète, particularly in the themes of revolt and insurrection and in the mother-son relationship of Jeanne and Robert, echoing Fidès and Jean.
Charles Castronovo leads a strong cast, his classy tenor slightly ‘covered’ à la Jonas Kaufmann. His dreamy reminiscence of Blanche is beautifully done. Jeanne is an expressive, dramatic role and Nora Gubisch is a touch wild in places, stretched at the top of her range. The rabble-rousing Guillaume is sung by the heroic-sounding baritone Boris Pinkhasovich, while Jean-Sébastien Bou is a sturdy Comte. Crowning the performance is the excellent Véronique Gens as Blanche, richly expressive in her agitated Act 1 aria “Rêve insensé”, superb in Act 4, where Coquard provides a lush orchestral introduction, including plaintive cor anglais solo, a moving scene where Blanche and Jeanne join in prayer, and then a tender closing duet between Robert and Blanche as they prepare to die together. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France is caught in a slightly foggy acoustic, but plays alertly under Patrick Davin.
There’s never any skimping on presentation from Palazzetto Bru Zane. The two discs are contained with a hardbook book with a series of expert articles in French and English along with the full libretto and translation. Especially wonderful is an 8-page review by Arthur Pougin in Le Ménestrel of the Paris première, which closes with the gentlest of critiques surrounding a disappointing performance: “I dare not pronounce judgment on the debutante, Mlle Yvonne Kerlord, who was assigned the role of Blanche. I believe that nerves stifled her slender but pleasant voice, and paralysed her acting to some extent. We shall have to see her again.” Few critics are as elegant today.