Gretry L'épreuve villageoise Junker Trevigne Dolié Fernandez-RuedaAndré-Ernest-Modeste Grétry
L’épreuve villageoise

CAST: Sophie Junker: Denise, Talise Trevigne: Madame Hubert, Thomas Dolié: La France, Francisco Fernández-Rueda: André

Opera Lafayette
Ryan Brown, conductor

Naxos, 2016

L’épreuve villageoise is a comic opera (or, better, an opéra bouffon) in two act, the only collaboration between the composer André Gretry and the dramatist Pierre Desforges. It is an example of the influence of Rousseau’s precepts about the moral superiority of country life. It received its premiere in Versailles in 1784 under the title Théodore et Paulin, but was revised after mixed reviews and not only it changed its title, but lost many of its serious parts in favour of the comic ones. In this new version, L’épreuve villageoise was performed at the Théâtre Italien and became Gretry’s most popular opera in the XIX century, both in France and abroad. After that, it fell into oblivion until 2015, when Opera Lafayette edited and recorded the edition of which I am writing.

L’épreuve villageoise is a nice and short opera (it does not last an hour) centred on love and jealousy. I have the impression that the little amount of music and characters (there are only four of them) has a positive consequence on the final result, because there is an incredible uniformity both among the singers and the orchestra, which seem to pursue the same aim under the exquisite and sophisticated direction of Ryan Brown, who gives a pretty good idea of the idealized countryside of the XVIII century. All these features give a particular character to this opera and is reflected by the soloists’ singing too.

I do not think that anyone of them is absolutely extraordinary, even if the quality of their performance is far better than usual for a minor opera and even if their singing is generally good. I had the impression that they preferred a nice but not deep interpretation of the characters, which thus are not very different from one another, rather than to find out their peculiarities. This is what happens for much of the time, but at least Sophie Junker gives sometimes a wit characterization to the heroine Denise.

On the other hand, this group works very well together and conveys an idea of fun and amusement which compensates for the lack of other qualities. When you listen to duets, trios or quartets, you perceive immediately their strict collaboration and easy understanding. I think that the better example of this collaboration is the duet between Talise Trevigne (Madame Hubert) and Thomas Dolié (the overseer La France) at the beginning of the first act, but the two duets between the aforementioned Sophie Junker and Francisco Fernández-Rueda (André) are lovely too.