Charles Gounod – Le medecin malgré lui
CAST: Sganarelle: Jean-Christophe Benoit, Léandre: Michel Hamel, Martine: Janine Capderou, Jacqueline: Lina Dachary, Lucinde: Monique Stiot, Géronte: Jean-Louis Soumagnas, Valère: Jean Martin, Lucas: Joseph Peyron
Orchestre Lyrique de l’ORTF
Jean-Claude Hartemann, conductor
Le médecin malgré lui is one of Charles Gounod’s lesser-known operas, inspired by the homonymous comedy by Molière and performed for the first time in 1858. It was rarely staged in recent years and also its recording history is not among the larger. The recording that I propose, moreover, is far from been complete and is closer to a highlights album for the uncontrolled cuts on the score: part of the Overture, the choirs, some internal bars of the survivors arias and all the dialogues (this is an opéra-comique) are suppressed, which is a real pity, because the libretto uses Molière’s original words.
The singers are not of great stature and are not good except in a few cases, but, even in those cases, excellence is never reached. Sganarelle is sung by Jean-Christophe Benoit, singer who is not always perfect, but better than the rest of the cast, above which emerges for the sonorous voice and a certain temperament. He occasionally adds histrionsm to bring liveliness to his part.
Martine is Janine Capderou, who sings in a decidedly nervous and inaccurate way and who possesses a voice of ungrateful timbre, spoilt by a marked vibrato and unpleasant high notes. The other female singer, Lina Dachary (Jacqueline) has not a particularly beautiful voice but who is technically good and is witty, so that her aria D’un bout du monde is the most successful moment of this Le médecin malgré lui.
Michel Hamel sings Léandre with too much shyness to persuade, especially as the embarassment affects both the interpretation and the singing, which always appears restrained and limited. He recurs to a horrible falsetto in his second aria, Je portais dans une cage.
Among the minor roles there are no outstanding voices and some of them are almost caricatured as they are awkward.
The conduction of Jean-Claude Hartemann is brilliant and animated and it is mainly thanks to it that you listen to the opera to the end.
This Le médecin malgré lui is thus closer to show the potential of the opera rather than to give a complete representation of it, or so I like to think in view of the cuts and of the mediocre result. I am convinced nonetheless that it would be absolutely enjoyable with a better cast, since the music is not inferior in quality to that of other, more famous operas of the same kind. My hope is that I will listen to a complete Le médecin malgré lui sooner or later: remembering that it had aroused the admiration of no lesser person than Berlioz may contribute to its cause.