Auber Le Philtre Krakow Phil Naxos 8660514-15

Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1782 – 1871)
Le philtre (1831)
Guillaume – Patrick Kabongo (tenor)
Joli-Cœur – Emmanuel Franco (baritone)
Fontanarose – Eugenio Di Lieto (bass)
Térézine – Luiza Fatyol (soprano)
Jeannette – Adina Vilichi (soprano)
Kraków Philharmonic Chorus & Orchestra/Luciano Acocella
rec. live 13-15 July 2021, Offene Halle Marienruhe, Bad Wildbad, Germany
Cued synopsis
French libretto:
Reviewed as downloaded from press preview
Naxos 8.660514-15 [2 CDs: 124]

Auber’s operas are seldom played today, but 200 years ago he was the most popular French composer – together with Meyerbeer – and his popularity continued for several decades. Le philtre, to a libretto by Eugène Scribe, was no exception. Premiered on 20 June 1831 it ran continuously until 1849 and was revived 1852-59 and 1861-62. In toto it reached 243 performances. Even more successful was Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, premiered less than a year later. The two operas are kind of half-cousins, since Felice Romani’s libretto was based very closely on Scribe’s. It is not a plain translation, but ‘the characters, events, dramatic structure, situations, even phrases and jokes, are transferred from French to Italian’, as Paolo Fabbri says in the liner notes. But Romani did make some changes: ‘he scaled down the role of Jeannette; made Joli-Cœur/Belcore closer in character to Dandini in La cenerentola; and, above all, injected a huge dose of pathos into the role of Guillaume/Nemorino. ‘Adina credimi, te ne scongiuro’, the concertato in the Act I finale, demonstrates this.’ Contrary to Le philtre, the popularity of L’elisir d’amore has however continued to this very day and, according to Wikipedia, ‘it appears as number 13 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide in the five seasons between 2008 and 2013.’

While not necessarily in the same division musically, Auber’s opera is still well worth an outing even today, which the present recording emphatically demonstrates. His music is melodious and colourful, clearly inspired by Rossini. Many of his overtures survived as concert pieces long after the operas had disappeared from the repertoire, and the one for Le philtre is no exception. The instrumentation is inventive with elegant woodwind solos and halfway through the piece distinct march rhythms tell us that before long soldiers are going to appear on stage. When the curtain goes up, we are exposed to a rural milieu where farm workers sing a charming chorus, whereupon we briefly encounter Guillaume (Nemorino) and Térézine (Adina) – both sporting beautiful lyrical voices – before Térézine reads the story of Yseult (Isolde) and the love potion, which is to Guillaume’s taste. Hardly has he stomached this when the aforementioned soldiers make their vigorous entrance, and their leader, Sergeant Joli-Coeur (Belcore) introduces himself. His tone is a bit gravelly, but the melody is stirring and he is expressive. Térézine has a second solo and the chorus, which has a lot to do in this opera, treats us to a lively and invigorating piece of entertainment, where also Jeannette and Guillaume take part. This and several other pieces are rather operetta-like and were no doubt appreciated by the audiences. Next arrival: Fontanarose (Dulcamara), the charlatan. He is sonorous and quite light-voiced, but we will later hear that he has a rich supply of deep black notes. Guillaume sees an opportunity and eagerly asks the fake doctor about Tristan’s magic potion, and of course he’s got it, and Guillaume buys it with his last three gold coins. He immediately drinks it and at once feels the effect. The aria that follows is the most beautiful piece in this opera, and the orchestral introduction with gossamer light woodwind sonorities prepare us for this lyrical highlight. Naturally Térézine is stunned when she notices how happy Guillaume seems and that he isn’t even bothered when she agrees to marry Joli-Coeur. There follows the extended finale to Act I, which opens in sprightly fashion but changes radically to gloom when the soldiers learn that they will have to leave the following day. However, when Joli-Coeur informs the people that the marriage will take place the same evening, the mood is transformed into a jubilant grand finale which is a really infectious ensemble. It is followed by applause, which comes as something of a surprise, since there have been no signs of an audience being present. 

There are no more arias in the rest of the opera, not even the equivalent of Una furtiva lagrima. There was no such aria in Scribe’s libretto; the idea to add one was obviously Donizetti’s and against Romani’s wishes. But there are other highlights: the barcarolle Fontanarose and Térézine sing at the wedding party is one (and here Fontanarose exhibits his arsenal of pitch-black low notes). A little later Guillaume meets Joli-Coeur and in their duet Guillaume signs the contract to be enlisted. As anyone who has ever seen L’elisir d’amore knows, everything is sorted out, Térézine and Guillaume sing a beautiful duet, and in the brief finale everyone rejoices. 

This light-hearted comedy is charming entertainment, and the presentation is worthy. The Polish chorus and orchestra are excellent. The Congolese tenor Patrick Kabongo is the possessor of a really beautiful voice and makes the most of Guillaume’s quite extensive role, and Romanian-born soprano Luiza Fatyol is a charming Térézine. Emmanuel Franco’s baritone voice isn’t really my cup of tea, but Eugenio Di Lieto is an imposing Fontanarose. Adina Vilichi’s Jeannette is unfortunately squally, but the role is fairly small, though more extensive than Giannetta’s in L’elisir d’amore. Luciano Acocella conducts with flair and the recording cannot be faulted. 

All in all, this is a charming blueprint for Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore that can be enjoyed in its own right.

Göran Forsling

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