Reynaldo Hahn: 'Ô mon bel inconnu'. © 2021 Palazzetto Bru Zane

CD Spotlight

The Roaring Twenties

GIUSEPPE PENNISI listens to the first complete recording of Reynaldo Hahn's 'Ô mon bel inconnu'

'... a period-piece that, musically, can be very much enjoyed today ...'


Les années folles is the way the French call The Roaring Twenties, a period when, after World War I, growth seemed fast and without any interruption, the middle classes believed themselves to be on their way to becoming upper class and there was an atmosphere and general happiness, notwithstanding that World War II was in the offing. In that period, the light opera genre flourished in Europe as well in the US. In the United States and Britain, it became musical comedy on Broadway and in the West End. In Germany, it was a satirical and somewhat bitter genre, borrowing quite a few elements from cabaret. In France, it married with the light comedy of the theatres in Paris boulevards (and thus, it was called boulevardier) and with Offenbach's opérette. The main author of the theatre 'boulevardier' was Sacha Guitry, also known as a very important film-maker.

Reynaldo Hahn was an important and very successful pillar of light opera. I reviewed one of his works a few months ago in the production by Palazzetto Bru-Zane Centre de Musique Romantique Française - 'A Polynesian Idyll', 23 October 2020. In that review, I provided a short biography of the Venezuelan-born, naturalized French composer who had studied with Jules Massenet, had some of the flair of Claude Debussy and after a debut with a charming opéra comique, devoted his talents, time and efforts almost entirely to light musical comedy.

This CD is the first complete recording of one of his musical comedies written and composed in partnership with Sacha Guitry: Ô mon bel inconnu. The debut of this musical comedy was at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens on 5 October 1933. Nearly ten months before that debut, Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany, but in France Les années folles were in full spree and the middle and upper classes would crowd light musical performances, the audience humming the tunes while going to restaurants and brasseries.

Ô mon bel inconnu is an excellent sample of this type of musical theatre. The plot is at the same time simple and complicated. Three acts in elegant surroundings - an upper class apartment in Paris, the Grands Magasins du Louvre and a villa in Biarritz - where the protagonist attempts, without luck, adultery. There are, of course, many intrigues and errors - and obviously a happy ending.

Sacha Guitry's comedy, as such, will be of little interest to today's audience. On the contrary, Reynaldo Hahn's score is like an ice-cold glass of top-class champagne, bubbling and full of verve - ideal to put the listeners in good spirits. Thus it was an excellent idea of Palazzetto Bru-Zane Centre de Musique Romantique Française to produce this first complete recording.

The protagonists are Véronique Gens, Olivia Doray, Éléonore Pancrazi, Thomas Dolié and Yoann Dubruque. Several minor roles are entrusted to Carl Ghazarossian and Jean-Christophe Lanièce. The orchestra is the Orchestre National Avignon-Provence conducted by Samuel Jean.

The brilliant tone is announced by the overture.

Listen — Reynaldo Hahn: Ouverture (Ô mon bel inconnu)
(track 1, 0:00-0:33) ℗ 2021 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

The same can be said of the first act ensemble.

Listen — Reynaldo Hahn: Cette fille n'a pas menti (Ô mon bel inconnu)
(track 3, 0:00-0:52) ℗ 2021 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

Véronique Gens, who is often in Palazzetto Bru-Zane productions, has a lovely little aria in Act II.

Listen — Reynaldo Hahn: C'est très vilain d'être infidèle (Ô mon bel inconnu)
(track 9, 0:45-1:27) ℗ 2021 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

This is followed by a charming aria sung by Thomas Dolié.

Listen — Reynaldo Hahn: Au lieu, vois-tu, de les confondre (Ô mon bel inconnu)
(track 10, 0:00-0:32) ℗ 2021 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

The concertato that ends Act II is quite lovely.

Listen — Reynaldo Hahn: Partons! (Ô mon bel inconnu)
(track 17, 2:03-2:53) ℗ 2021 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

In Act III, all the intrigues come to an end. The couplets are remarkable.

Listen — Reynaldo Hahn: Monsieur, c'est la maison rêvée (Ô mon bel inconnu)
(track 19, 0:00-0:30) ℗ 2021 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

Remarkable too is the final ensemble.

Listen — Reynaldo Hahn: À ma naissance (Ô mon bel inconnu)
(track 28, 4:21-5:14) ℗ 2021 Palazzetto Bru Zane :

In short, this is a period-piece that, musically, can be very much enjoyed today as well.

Copyright © 21 April 2021 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy







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