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Le roi et le fermier.

Opera Lafayette's recording of this enchanting 1762 opera cornique was made between a pair of performances in Washington, DC, and New York in January 2012, which preceded another pair inVer-sailles two weeks later. All of those were more complete than this one, which excludes the libretto's considerable chunks of spoken dialogue. In fact, the pared-down dinlogue was delivered in the stage performances not by the singers but by the two directors, playing come-to-life statues that, in a slightly precious conceit, shadowed the broadly miming singers with streams of the impeccably fluent French most of them couldn't supply on their own.

I wish, in place of this welcome audio disc, that we'd been given a video souvenir of the weekend in Versailles, where the action unfolded amid the spruced-up settings of Marie Antoi-nette's private staging of 1780, in which, like the king of the opera's title, the queen concealed her royal highness in the guise of someone of far lower rank--in her case, the endearing Jenny, beloved of the farmer who affords the other half of the tide. The queen and her court relished this opportunity to romp in the opera's "Sherwood Forest" (Michel-Jean Sedaine fashioned his libretto after an English model) and to embrace the simple sentiments of the hoi polloi while congratulating themselves for their own noblesse oblige.

It's hard for modern ears and sensibilities to apprehend the "subversive" aspects of Seclaine's text or the "innovative" features of Monsigny's music, but I'll accept Opera Lafayette's claim for them. What's utterly easy is enjoying their joint concoction, with its tuneful airs punctuated by charming ensembles and two bracing entr'actes, one a sonorous storm and the other a horn-happy hunt. And Lafayette, as ever, easily rises to the work's level with a cast that, despite some flaws on the male side, puts it across with flair. Baritone William Sharp makes a better case for farmers than tenor Thomas Michael Allen does for royalty, and the three ladies tip the balance decisively in favor of the common folk. Veteran mezzo Delores Ziegler is zestily characterful as the farmer's morn; and as her daughter and her niece, Yulia Van Doren (Betsy) and Dominique Labelle (Jenny) are a double delight, complete but unselfconscious mistresses of the style and fetchingly mellifluous to boot. Ryan Brown conducts with his usual infectious bounce, and the sound is splendid. If you know Lafayette, this disc is self-recommending.

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Author:Dillon, Patrick
Publication:Opera Canada
Date:Dec 22, 2013
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