Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's work in music is little known today, but he managed to create and sustain an atmosphere of conflict in the world of French opera during the mid-eighteenth century. Since Rameau, the reigning master of tragédie lyrique at the Opéra, declared one of Rousseau's early operas "the work of a musical ignoramus," Rousseau launched a lifetime vendetta against the traditions of French opera. The primacy of tragédie lyrique was shaken for a few years after Pergolesi's light comedy La serva padrona was presented in Paris in 1752. Rousseau's brief Le devin du village (The village soothsayer), which was written in a similar, simple, Italianate style to a libretto by the composer, extolling the joys of rustic romance, was premiered the same year. It could hardly have demonstrated a greater contrast with Rameau's elaborate, rigorously mannered (and very long) operas based on mythology or ancient history. Rousseau's opera was a popular success, and while it did not succeed in displacing Rameau's aesthetic, it remained in the repertoire until the early nineteenth century.
While Rousseau's comedy may not be the work of a (musical) genius, it is a genuine charmer, with sympathetic characters and a direct plot full of lively, memorable tunes and delightful musical quirkiness; it certainly deserves a place alongside La serva padrona in the modern repertoire. CPO's recording of a spirited and polished live 2006 performance makes a strong case for the opera. Soprano Gabriela Bürgler, tenor Michael Feyfar, and baritone Dominik Wörner sing with strong tone, vivacity, finesse, and obvious enjoyment. The Cantus Firmus Consort, playing period instruments, and Cantus Firmus Kammerchor, led by Andreas Reize, perform with warmth and energy. The sound quality is generally good, but sometimes the singers get too close to the mikes and swamp the orchestra.