Pierre Jourdan

Adam: Le Toréador, ou l'accord parfait [DVD Video]

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Adolphe Adam composed more than 70 operas, of which a small handful still enjoy some currency on the French stage; most have been little seen outside of their native land and are seldom recorded, and some have never been revived since their first productions, if they were so given. This may lead some to believe these works must either be hopelessly dated or "too French" to travel. The video company Kultur, however, is helping expand that narrow view of French theater through its L'Opera Français series, which by 2008 was up to eight titles. This series really fills a major void in the operatic repertoire and makes accessible to international audiences the distinctively French form of opéra-comique, a frothy, deliberately silly type of entertainment that is about as close to "popular" culture as high culture ever gets.

Although it deals with a character who is a toreador and incorporates fragments of popular Spanish songs, Adam's Le Toréador is really like a pocket version of Cosí fan tutte, and in a way, the whole work is like a trope of Mozart; from the overture down to the ensemble on "Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman," better known in the English-speaking world as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." It is a charming single-act work with only three characters: the blustering, faithless, self-absorbed toreador; his long-suffering wife; and her charming, worldly lover. The latter two hatch a plot to bring the toreador to his knees, and the title role is played with wonderfully hammy enthusiasm by baritone Matthieu Lécroart.

There is a terrific studio recording of Le Toréador, featuring the superlative talents of soprano Sumi Jo; however, this DVD production gives the viewer a sense of immediacy and a grasp of what is going on in the opera that no recording can convey. The only aspect of Le Toréador that seems not fully adequate is Pierre Jourdan's staging, which consists only of three exceptionally tall doorframes and a table or two; the orchestra is placed on-stage with the actors. While this smacks a little of over concern for economy, the work itself really does not demand elaborate staging, and one gets so absorbed in the silly antics of the singers and in Adam's wonderful music that the chintziness of the setting is forgotten before long.