André Messager: Les P’tites Michu
Violette Polchi (Marie-Blanche), Anne-Aurore Cochet (Blanche-Marie), Caroline Meng (Mlle Herpin), Philippe Estèphe (Gaston Rigaud), Boris Grappe (Général des Ifs), Damien Bigourdan (Monsieur Michu), Marie Lenormand (Madame Michu), Artavazd Sargsyan (Aristide), Romain Dayez (Bagnolet), Chœur d’Angers Nantes Opéra, Xavier Ribes (chorus master), Orchestre national des Pays de la Loire, Pierre Dumoussaud (conductor)
Live recording: Théâtre Graslin, Nantes, France (May 23-24, 2018) – 102’55
Palazzetto Bru Zane 1034 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in French and English
Though best known for his ballet, Les Deux Pigeons, André Messager’s contributions to opérettes sparkled with benevolent delight. In 2018 Rémy Barché’s minimalist set depicting Les P’tites Michu ventured through selected French cities, first launched in Nantes, then winding down in Paris. This co-production (combining talents from Angers Nantes Opéra, Bru Zane France and Compagnie Les Brigands) had a very favorable outcome, especially under the well-tended direction of Pierre Dumoussaud. Messager’s music possesses catchy tunes with memorable quality. It’s no surprise why Les P’tites Michu holds a respectful position in the French repertoire.
The most significant draw comes from the inseparable twins, Marie-Blanche and Blanche-Marie, here sung by Violette Polchi in a commanding, well-upholstered register while being supplemented by more fragile dimensions and well-articulation by Anne-Aurore Cochet, respectively. Their inseparable quality strengthens early on during the delightful “duet” that’s constructed in enchaîné thirds, whereupon being revisited in the operetta’s “Final Couplet.”
Beginning early on in Act I, Messager’s farandole-like rhythmic calculation lays the groundwork into the lower class with Aristide (Artvazd Sargsyan) as the simple-minded character while folding over into the Michu parents (Damien Bigourdan and Marie Lenormand.) The hilarity is immense, particularly when moving into Act II. Boris Grappe’s outreaches as Général des Ifs add a level of chivalric flamboyancy when attempting to marry off his biological daughter to Captain Gaston Rigaud. Philippe Estèphe’s portrayal of this war hero has trimmings of cute innocence when he’s spotlighted during his “Madrigal” (Act I.) Caroline Meng starts the operetta off with a bang as she rules with an iron fist as the militaristic boarding school’s matron, Madamoiselle Herpin. On another front, Romain Dayaz is a hoot in the role as the orderly, Bagnolet...his inflections are superb.
Les P’tites Michu’s informative backdrop is thoroughly argued with four authors’ contributions. Alexandre Dratwicki’s copious write-up, “Les P’tites Michu, number by number” has one gross omission: the “numbers” [ref: no.] aren’t carried over into pages 172 and 173 for easy reference. Thus, the listener has to index independently.
Humor is hard to translate, and for the English-speaking contingent, some of Les P’tites Michu’s comedic subtleties may be overlooked; however, one thing is for certain: André Messager drives a musical message into the brain without duress or commanding subjugation. Insanely rib-tickling…infectiously waggish.
Palazzetto Bru Zane Website