La Cour de Célimène
CAST: Laura Claycomb: La Comtesse, Joan Rodgers: La Baronne, Alastair Miles: Le Commandeur de Beaupré, Sébastien Droy: Le Chevalier de Mérac, Nicole Tibbels: Bretonne
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Andrew Litton, conductor
Opera Rara, 2008
La Cour de Célimène is a charming and unfortunately little known opéra comique written in 1855 by the same composer of the celebrated Hamlet and Mignon, Ambroise Thomas. The plot is based on the love stories of a coquettish Comtesse, nicknamed “Célimène” for her resemblance with the homonymous Molière’s character, who copes with twelve suitors and that marries the Commandeur de Beaupré after the usual vicissitudes (including a duel) and misunderstandings that involve also her widow sister, La Baronne, and the Chevalier de Mérac. The music accompanying this unlikely plot is hilarious and gallant and it is thanks to Opera Rara that the little treasure of La Cour de Célimène is finally returned to eager listeners of rare works.
This recording features many distinguished singers headed by Laura Claycomb as the Comtesse and Alastair Miles as the Commadeur under the direction of Andrew Litton. The aim of the conduction is to bring out the amusing character of the opera and reveals many delightful and unjustly forgotten numbers stressing the light, mocking but always refined sound of this music, of which it is worth to remember at least the duet between the Comtesse and the Baronne (sung by Joan Rodgers), the Commandeur’s facetious aria and the two dazzling finali. It is clear that the conduction plays on the fact that the circumstances of the opera are not possible in real life and its purpose is to make them even more unrealistic – but always preserving the music finesse, of course.
The singers share the conductor’s pleasure in portraying frivolous characters. I have just mentioned the Commander’s aria and this, more than every other piece, gives prominence to Alastair Miles’s delight to sing a buffo character reminding of the best tradition. It is anyway the protagonist that stands out above the others. Claycomb has a beautiful, flexible soprano voice that conquers the hearts from the cadenza she sings at her entry and that then delights the listener with sparkling high notes and perfect coloratura. Joan Rodgers and Sébastien Droy (Le Chevalier) are enjoyable too in their (apparently) more serious roles.
La Cour de Célimène is a great world premiere recording and the quality of the performance will conquer also those listeners who are less inclined to look for unusual titles.