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date: 24 January 2020


  • Richard Langham Smith


Farce in one act by Jacques Ibert to a libretto by Nino (pseudonym of Michel Veber); Paris, Théâtre Bériza, 28 January 1927.

Set in a port, the opera concerns a woman, Angélique (soprano), who has been put up for sale by her husband Boniface (baritone) with the aid of Charlot (baritone), who takes money from three would-be buyers: an Italian (tenor), an Englishman (tenor) and a negro (bass), all characterized by clever musical pastiches. None of them can cope with her ebullience, and despairingly Boniface cries ‘the devil take her!’. Obediently the devil appears and takes her, but even he cannot keep her and he too gives her back to the despairing Boniface: she is destined to be always for sale. A drinking-chorus finishes off this concise and fast-moving work, where each set piece is clearly defined.

The ridiculous situation, somewhat reminiscent of commedia dell’arte, is captured with ‘wrong-note’ harmonies, bitonality and a constantly nervous rhythmic drive, which includes African cross-rhythms to portray the negro’s inspection, and what Ibert called ‘de choeurs rythmés-parlés’ – a chorus in speaking rhythm. His eclectic style and technique were well suited to the pastiche set pieces of this, his most successful opera. He was always pleased with it, considering it innovatory for a stage work: ‘Using the voices to the limits of their possibilities, I did not spare the orchestra, using the minimum of instruments for the maximum result’....

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