BIZET: Le docteur Miracle – Christiane Eda-Pierre, soprano (Laurette) / Robert Massard, baritone (Mayor) / Rémy Corazza, voice (Silvio/Pasquin/Doctor Miracle) / Lyliane Guitton, soprano (Véronique) / Catherine Salviat, René Camion, Claire Viret, and Alain Pralon, speakers / Orchestra of Radio France / Bruno Amaducci – Opera d’Oro OPD 7077 [Distr. by Allegro] 51:57 ***:
It almost seems as though, like Mozart and Mendelssohn, Bizet knew that he had to grow up fast because so few years were available to him. Of course none of these composers could have realized in their teens that they would die before reaching forty, and yet they all started out early on great composing careers, producing remarkably precocious works while still teenagers. In the case of Bizet, the works in question are his Symphony in C, now a repertory standard, written when he was seventeen, and the majestic Te Deum, written while the nineteen-year-old Bizet was studying in Italy courtesy of the Prix de Rome. Both works remained unpublished until well into the twentieth century but are now regularly heard in concert.
Le docteur Miracle, a one-act operetta that the eighteen-year-old Bizet entered in a contest offered by Jacques Offenbach, is another piece of utter precocity. Bizet shared the prize with Charles Lecoq, later famous for La fille de Madame Angot, a comic-opera staple. Despite announcing Bizet to the music world as a major talent in the making and helping him win the Prix de Rome, Le docteur Miracle fell out of favor with the public and has rarely been heard from since. So it’s good to have this sparkling little opera available even in recorded sound that is, in a word, crummy.
The slim plot concerns the frustrated love of Laurette for Captain Silvio. In order to get close to her without tipping off her father, the disapproving Mayor, he disguises himself as the clueless bumpkin Pasquin and goes to work for the family as a household servant. Comical complications arise when he concocts a vile omelet for the family, who run away in horror, at which point Silvio reveals himself to Laurette. But the Mayor returns and banishes Silvio from the household. Any bets on whether the two get back together by the end of the opera? By the way, Doctor Miracle does little but lend his name to the work; he appears selling his snake-oil cures in the first scene and then is heard from no more.
The opera owes more than a little of its style and spirit to the operettas of Offenbach, but there’s no denying Bizet’s talents. Solos are sweetly tuneful, ensembles zip merrily along and are skillfully put together, while the orchestration (what you can hear of it) is bright and zesty. You’ll recognize the composer of the Symphony in C in that sprightly little overture.
The French cast are all to the manner born. They’re skilled actors and singers both, and this is a high-gloss performance in every respect. The letdown is the recording, taken from a radio broadcast of 1976. I would just as easily believe 1956, if not 1946. It’s not even especially good mono, what with distortion here and there, pervasive hiss, a distant orchestra, and variably recorded voices. At one point, the singers appear to duck into a coat closet—and sing from behind the coats.
This is a rerelease of an earlier offering from Opera d’Oro. It purports to be a deluxe package, and indeed the presentation, with a nice booklet and multi-CD case (though there is only one CD) in a cardboard outer sleeve, looks to be an improvement on the old package. A shame they couldn’t do anything about the sonics. So while this is an entertaining little opera in a very entertaining performance, be forewarned: the recorded sound won’t thrill.
– Lee Passarella