Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny: Le Roi et le fermier
Thomas Michael Allen (Le Roi), William Sharp (Richard), Dominique Labelle (Jenny), Thomas Dolié (Rustaut), Jeffrey Thompson (Lorewel), Delores Ziegler (La Mère), Yulia Van Doren (Betsy), David Newman (Charlot), Tony Boutté (Le Courtisan), Opera Lafayette Orchestra, Ryan Brown (Conductor and Artistic Director)
Recording: Deckelboum Hall, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland (January 23-24, 2012) – 72’ 12
Naxos # 8.660322
We continue on the journey of Ryan Brown’s extraordinary mission of bringing more recognition to artists from the niche of eighteenth century French classical music. A personal review of last year’s Naxos recording of Philidor’s Sancho Pança was a welcomed addition to the opéra-comique sector in which mention was made of Ryan Brown’s preparations of staging Monsigny’s Le Roi et le fermier in Versailles. The reception must have been well received as we now have collected another fine treasure.
Le Roi et le fermier premiered on November 22, 1762, Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny’s first opéra-comique to be performed at the then recently merged Comédie-italienne, now better known as the Opéra Comique. France was in a state of flux during this time, both politically and religiously. Thus, it would come as no surprise that the initial reception was rather varied, especially with the advent of some rather unexpected novelties, but the public finally came around to embracing the work.
With opéra-comique comes spoken dialogue, but in this Naxos recording all of that is omitted. What it leaves us is a wonderful array of ariettes featuring a string of singers for the primary enjoyment of listening to the music instead of getting caught up in the plot and storyline (which is absurd.) The opera’s “Ouverture” possesses a politely restrained tempo that teems with a truncated, primitive Mozart.
William Sharp’s youthful, baritone voice leads us into Act I as Richard (the farmer) in a lively ariette (“Je ne sais à quoi me résoudre”), bringing to mind Mozart’s Così. Subsequently we hear Thomas Dolié in his ariette as Rustaut, bringing an aura of buttermilk freshness to Monsigny’s notes.
One of the most captivating voices in Le Roi et le fermier is that of Dominique Labelle. Her tessitura aptly fits into the character of Jenny with a rarified demonstration of immense lightness and limpidness. The timbre can be likened to a delicate butterfly fluttering with lovely grace notes. What would have to be the most beautiful selection within this album is her Act III Romance, “Que le soleil dans la plaine.” Accompanied by the diction and respectful restraints from Brown’s Opera Lafayette Orchestra, Labelle’s showcase piece is one to return to repeatedly. Yulia Van Doren hints of zestful tang alongside soufflé lightness as Betsy. The remaining supporting roles are equally accomplished which serve well in this recording.