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Something Missing from 'Une éducation manquée'

(L to R) Sopranos Amel Brahim-Djelloul and Sophie Junker in Une Éducation Manquée, Opera Lafayette (photo by Louis Forget)
People should perform the music of Emmanuel Chabrier more than they do. The good folks at Opera Lafayette have done their part, adding Chabrier to their list of revivals of 19th-century operas. On Tuesday evening in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, the company presented a staged version of Chabrier's Une éducation manquée, a charming one-act operetta composed two years after L'étoile. On the basis of what I have heard so far, put me down for any performances of Chabrier's other comic operas or his serious work Gwendoline.

The libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, recounts the dilemma of a young married couple, played by two sopranos, who have reached their wedding night without really knowing about what they are supposed to do with each other when the lights are out. The husband, Gontran, calls back his drunken tutor, Master Pausanias, to berate him on account of this deficiency in his education, but the elderly abbé is not much help. Only when lightning and thunder strike, driving the wife, Hélène, into her husband's arms, does the hapless couple figure things out.

Soprano Sophie Junker was a wide-eyed Hélène, with some bell-like top notes and a beautiful overall tone, with soprano Amel Brahim-Djelloul a little more tested at the high end but showing a charming boyishness in the trouser role of Gontran. Baritone Dominique Côté had smart comic timing as Pausanias, if some tentative qualities on the high parts of the role. Opera Lafayette extended the short work to about an hour of music by introducing the opera with four of Chabrier's charming animal-themed songs (Villanelle des petits canards, Pastorale des cochons roses, Les Cigales, and the hilarious Cocodette et Cocorico, in which a hen and rooster find each other). For these scenes director Bertrand Deletré created little vignettes showing the charmed youth of the two leads, played by an adorable group of child supernumeraries.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, An evanescent French rarity by Chabrier returns to the stage (Washington Post, February 4)
Chabrier debuted the opera, in a semi-private performance, in his own piano reduction, but that does not seem like a sufficient reason to forego the composer's orchestral version of the score. Pianist Jeffrey Watson did the piano version justice, with probably unnecessary direction from conductor Ryan Brown, creating an intimate ambiance as heard from the close rows. Perhaps a future project could focus instead on Darius Milhaud's expanded version of this opera, created for Sergei Diaghilev in 1924, with Milhaud's recitatives and new number (Couplets de Mariette) for Hélène.

This performance repeats Friday and Saturday, at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York.

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