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date: 01 April 2020


  • John Wagstaff


Opéra comique in three acts by André Messager to a libretto by Georges Duval and Albert Vanloo ; Paris, Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, 10 December 1898.

The plot is based around the relationship between Viscount Florestan de Valiancourt (baritone) and Hélène de Solanges (soprano) and takes place during the reign of Louis-Philippe. Florestan’s lifestyle has left him crippled with debt and, in a last attempt to reform him, the king has given him the options of marriage (to Hélène) or life in a debtors’ prison. Florestan is meanwhile having an affair with Mme Agathe Coquenard (soprano), wife of a captain in the National Guard: the Coquenards also keep a flower shop in Paris. Hélène unexpectedly arrives at the Coquenards’ shop on the day the marriage contract is to be signed, and overhears Florestan taking his leave of Mme Coquenard; he expresses regret that he must leave her for a simple girl from the provinces whom he has yet to meet. Hélène vows revenge and, taking the name of Véronique, she and her aunt Ermerance (mezzo-soprano) (who becomes ‘Estelle’) take employment as shop assistants in the Coquenards’ business. Shortly afterwards, Florestan invites the whole of the staff to join him at a party at Romainville, given to celebrate his last day as a bachelor. At Romainville he falls in love with ‘Véronique’, while M. Coquenard takes a liking to ‘Estelle’; but following a donkey ride (inspiration for the famous Donkey Duet in Act 2) and a ride on the swings (the ‘Duo de l’escarpolette’) Véronique and Estelle flee to the Tuileries, where the marriage is to take place. In Act 3, Florestan and Hélène come face to face, and the deception is revealed; but Florestan, feeling dishonoured by Hélène’s trickery (in spite of his own previous bad behaviour) wishes the marriage to be called off. Reconciliation follows, however, with a joyful marriage ceremony....

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