Honneger's Sparkling - & Racy - Operetta on disc at last!
Nicholas A. Deutsch | New York, NY USA | 03/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Adventures of King Pausole" (1929-30) was Swiss composer Arthur Honneger's first (& very successful) venture into the tempting waters of commercial operetta, & this fine world premiere recording (dating from 1992) will delight those who enjoy the "classical tradition" of French light opera. (Susan Graham has recently included one number from it on her excellent "French Operetta Arias" CD on Erato.) Musically, its catchy and sophisticated score pays homage first & foremost to Offenbach and Chabrier, altho' Honegger finds plenty of room for more "modern" sounds. The music sparkles in the fast numbers, & grows properly wistful in the slower ones.
Albert Willemetz's text - based on a novel by Pierre Louys (of Debussy's "Chansons de Bilitis") - however goes where none of Honegger's distinguished 19th century century predecessors would have dared to tread! The fantasy kingdom where the title character has 365 wives, one for each night of the year, might just barely have been acceptable. Not so a trio in which the innocent young heroine does a bit of "comparison shopping," - kiss-wise - between two suitors, one a lesbian prima ballerina in male clothing, the other a randy male page dressed (for the moment) as a milkmaid... & all set to the most literally ravishing music in the score. If the piece never - well, hardly ever - threatens to topple over into tastelessness, it's due in part to the satirical verve of the text & above all to the high spirits & inventiveness of the score.
This is by & large a fine performance, & everyone seems to be enjoying rediscovering the piece. The dialogue has been trimmed, altho' there's still a lot of it; the score is given complete. The cast is wisely anchored in the work of 2 savvy veterans, baritone Gabriel Bacquier & tenor Michel Senechal. The rest are without real weakness & Rachel Yakar is outstandingly stylish, in both song & speech, as Diane (she sings the number Graham recorded, a bluesy aria of frustration about getting to sleep with her husband only once a year...). Chorus (the Basle Madrigalistes) & orchestra (Atelier Philharmonique Suisse) do just fine under Mario Venzago. Full libretto in French only, notes & number-by-number synopsis in French, English, German & Italian. Recommended."