Joseph Bologne Opera a Welcome Addition

I’m glad this recording was released, and I’m glad Cedille chose to release it in the format they did. The music of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier De Saint-Georges is in the midst of revival and rediscovery. French composer Bologne was of mixed race and is almost larger than life.

He was a virtuoso violinist, conductor, composer, champion fencer, and military officer. As a musician, he was the toast of Paris. Bologne dazzled 1790s audiences with his technique. Most of his compositions (naturally) centered around the violin. He wrote violin concertos, quartets brilliante, and string symphonies.

All were successful and popular. Then Bologne attempted to break into opera. As skilled as he was, success eluded him. “L’Amant Anonyme” (The Anonymous Lover) premiered in 1780 and had a very short run.

It was the third comic opera Bologne wrote, and the only one to survive in complete score. Cedille wisely chose to release this production on three CDs. The first two have the complete opera comique. And that means spoken dialogue as well as music. The third disc is just the music itself.

The Haymarket Opera Company directed by Craig Trompeter does this opera justice. The orchestra makes the music sparkle, especially during the overture. The soloists perform with a lightness and clarity that well-suites the featherweight plot.

I did have one quibble with the interpretation, though. The singers seemed a little reigned in on the da capo arias. Audiences of the day would have expected vocal fireworks.

The complete opera is important. It recreates the experience of the Parisian audiences (at least aurally). But man, the dialogue really slows things down. I think it should be delivered at a rapid-fire pace, almost like a screwball comedy. The measured, stately readings just negate the momentum of the music.

I’ve listened to the first two discs. It’s not likely I’ll revisit them with any frequency. But the third disc is the one I’ll be returning to again and again. It’s only the music — 71:37 vs. 98:54 playing time.

And this disc presents the distilled genius of Bologne. He didn’t e have the dramatic instincts of Mozart (his contemporary). But listening to the music, it doesn’t matter. Each aria and ensemble piece is a little gem.

Bologne knew how to write a melody.

If you want a complete picture of Joseph Bologne, you should definitely get this release. But if the music-only single disc is ever available for separate sale — that’s the one I’d spring for.

Joseph Bologne, Chevalier De Saint-Georges: L’Amant Anonyme
Nicole Cabell, soprano; Geoffrey Agpalo, tenor; David Govertsen, bass-baritone; Erica Schuller, soprano; Michael St. Peter, tenor; Nathalie Colas, soprano
Haymarket Opera Company; Craig Trompeter, conductor
Cedille CDR 90000 271
3 CD Set

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