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29.1.06

Philidor's Tom Jones in Lausanne

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Monteverdi's Orfeo, Jean-Claude Malgoire (November 6, 2004)
Jean-Claude Malgoire is at it again, reviving an unknown opera at the Opéra de Lausanne, in Switzerland. This time, it's François-André Danican Philidor's Tom Jones (1776), with a libretto derived from Henry Fielding's novel The History of Tom Jones, an opera that was actually premiered in Lausanne. An article by Jean-Louis Validire (Tom Jones réapparaît à Lausanne, January 23) for Le Figaro tells us what it was like (my translation):
It was actually in March 1776 that Philidor's opéra-comique was premiered, in this Swiss town that was actually less austere than Calvinist Geneva. Voltaire made frequent visits between 1755 and 1758, the theatrical life there was intense, and Zaïre was applauded. Taking his lead from the spirit of commemoration around Mozart's birthday, Eric Vigié, the director of the Opéra de Lausanne, with this programming to wanted to give an idea of the town's artistic activity in the Europe of the late 18th century. Mozart passed through Lausanne when he was ten years old, ten years before the premiere of Tom Jones. Those are two events that represent more than a minor coincidence, as shown in the exhibit En passant par Lausanne [Passing through Lausanne], organized by the town's theaters, which shows the cultural panorama of a society at the turn of the Enlightenment.

No one is more qualified than Jean-Claude Malgoire to bring Philidor back to life. On Friday he again showed his familiarity and closeness to the colors and subtlety of a composer sometimes better known as a talented chess player than for his music. The heir to a compositional dynasty, son of Louis XIV's librarian, François-André Danican Philidor was also the brother of Anne Danican Philidor, oboist in La Grande Écurie and founder of the Concert spirituel. It was through chess that he became known to the world, while visiting the Café Régence in Paris, which opened the doors of the society that was not yet called intellectual. Diderot mentions him in Le Neveu de Rameau. If the musician has long been eclipsed, the chess master, who died unbeaten at the age of 69 in 1795 and was the author of a reference work, L'Analyse des échecs, remains a respected theorist of the game.
In the pit, Malgoire is directing a group of young orchestral musicians, the Sinfonietta of Lausanne. This opera has been revived only once in modern France, at the Opéra-Comique in 1979 under the baton of Jean-Pierre Wallez. In the libretto there is nothing of the moral satire of English society found in Fielding's novel, only the central story of the orphan Tom Jones and the girl next door, Sophie Western.

See also the article (Tom Jones ou la naissance de l’opérette, January 27) by Jérôme-Alexandre Nielsberg for L'Humanité. Another article (Tiède Tom Jones, January 25) by Jacques Schmitt for ResMusica.com has some pictures.

1 comment:

rb said...

I had the great pleasure of seeing Stephen Kovacevich with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performing a glorious all-Mozart program, with the Piano Concerto in C Minor especially beautiful. And singing happy birthday to Mozart with 1000 of my closest friends was kind of fun too.