Honegger/Ibert, L'Aiglon, A.-C. Gillet, M. Barrard, É. Dupuis, H. Guilmette, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, K. Nagano
(released on March 4, 2016)
Decca 00028947895060 | 92'26"
The story covers only the last year or so of Napoleon II's life, as he struggles to break free of the identity his Austrian relations have tried to give him, calling him Franz and granting him the title of Duke of Reichstadt. His valet, Séraphin Flambeau, is actually one of his father's former grenadiers, who encourages his employer's inclinations toward taking up his father's imperial standard again. The Eaglet agrees, which puts him in opposition to Metternich, who opposes any return of Napoleon's heir to France. In the France of 1937, that fight to maintain French identity in the face of Germanic domination was understandably relevant, and French revolutionary songs are woven into the ends of Acts II and IV. (By an odd coincidence, it was Adolf Hitler who ordered the remains of Napoleon II transferred to Les Invalides, to be placed next to those of his father.) The prettiest music, aside from some charmingly Vienn-easy waltzes by Ibert, including those composed to replace some cuts to Honegger's part of the score in Act III, is the angelic music that accompanies the Eaglet on his deathbed, including a touchingly harmonized version of the chant Ubi caritas.
While the cast is perhaps not stellar, with Anne-Catherine Gillet fervid but not always pretty at the top in the title role, Marie-Nicole Lemieux is a warmly maternal Marie-Louis, mother of Napoleon II. Hélène Guilmette is pretty as Thérèse de Lorget, Marie-Louise's lectrice who becomes the Eaglet's love interest, but Marc Barrard's Séraphin is not always sure, a wide vibrato obscuring the center of the pitch. As Metternich, Étienne Dupuis is the most impressive presence in the male cast, although the scene in which the valet tricks Metternich into thinking the Eaglet arriving is actually the Emperor Napoleon back from the dead, is slightly silly. Kent Nagano and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal revel in the French lightness of the score, in which Ibert's contributions outweigh those of Honegger.