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Louis GANNE (1862-1923)
Les Saltimbanques (The Acrobats) (1899)
Operetta (complete, with dialogue in French)
Mady Mesplé (Susanne), Eliane Lublin (Marion), Raymond Amade (Paillasse), Claude Calès (André), Dominique Tirmont (Grand-Pingouin), Jean-Christophe Benoit (Malicorne), Jacques Pruvost (L’Aubergiste/Le Brigadier), André Batisse (Le Comte des Etiquettes)
René Duclos Choir
Orchestre de l’Association des Concerts Lamoureux/Jean-Pierre Marty
Rec. Salle Wagram, Paris, July 1968
EMI 574 0792 [CD1 52.29 CD2 50.13]


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This set is one of the recent EMI reissues of operetta recordings with dialogue in French.

Louis Ganne was born in Buxières-les-Mines in Allier on 5 April 1862, and became an organ student of César Franck and Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire. Ganne’s operettas, Hans the Flute-player and The Travelling Entertainers (Les Saltimbanques) are rarely staged and are unlikely to be known outside France. He may be remembered, however, for composing rousing military marches like Le Père la Victoire and the immortal Marche Lorraine. He began his career as a conductor at the Nouveau Théâtre de la Rue Blanche, at the Folies-Bergère, later at the Casino de Royan and then at Monte Carlo where he presented his own concerts before he returned to Paris and the Théâtre Apollo. A number of trifles and character pieces caught the public's attention, mostly based on dance-rhythms from afar, giving off an amusing off-beat whiff of fin-de-siècle exoticism with mazurkas or polkas like La Czarine, La Tzigane, or La Mousmé. At the Folies (Casino de Paris) he put on ballets, and he was also a sparkling director of the opera balls: one can only imagine what Les Sources du Nil or Phryné must have been like when put on at these venues which went in for enchantment and spectacle! Incidental music for a play called Rabelais at the 0déon in 1892 came just before his first attempt at a vocal stage-work, La Colle des Femmes, at the Menus-Plaisirs. These notes edited from Michel Parouty’s CD material gives a good introduction to Ganne, a little known composer who doesn’t even appear in Rosenthal & Warrack’s Oxford Dictionary of Opera.

Operetta was unfashionable at this time, though Robert Planquette had received a triumph with his Le Talisman and revivals of his two principal works, Surcouf and Les Cloches de Corneville. At the close of a Century which had seen the public flock to the Universal Exposition in Paris (1867) when Offenbach was in vogue, preparations were being made at the Gaîeté for the première of Les Saltimbanques, a three-act piece, composed to a libretto by Maurice Ordonneau which opened on 30th December 1899. Ganne’s score is generally robust and is punctuated with military interludes, songs and finales which are Suppé-like with their bouncy rhythms (try CD1 tk.14) and there are circus numbers which could be compared with favourites like Smetana’s Dance of the Tumblers or Strauss’s Tritsch Tratsch Polka. I find Ganne becomes more fluent in his composing from Act 2 onwards. Certainly the opening chorus number to Act 2 would be better used for Act 1 which progresses rather pedantically, without real purpose and is unlikely to focus an audience’s initial interest. He writes a clever military song (CD2 tk.5) for André and some of his ensemble numbers are equally inventive. An Act 2 ballet is quite charming and confirms Ganne’s confidence in scoring with good texture and artistic style (CD2 tk.13). Also the excellent finale which follows contains plenty of vocal colour.

Les Saltimbanques (The Acrobats) has a touching story surrounding a child taken in by a troupe of travelling circus artistes. It is a romance of circus life that is boisterous yet colourful, and offers a backdrop for some spectacular effects.

Ganne’s score leans towards an opéra-comique level and very much in the tradition of Planquette and Audran rather his other contemporary, Messager. One number in particular became a hit with the audiences. It was not André's stirring military song, ‘Va, gentil Soidat’, where the composer was confident with his much tested martial rhythms, nor the melodic duets for the two lovers, but a waltz which ends the first Act, ‘C'est I'amour’ (CD1 tk.19) This number’s music is particularly effective: it is a completely captivating song which one is likely to remember after one leaves the theatre. On 14 April 1906 at Monte Carlo, Louis Ganne's Hans le Joueur de Flûte, the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was premièred. It starred Jean Périer (the first Florestan in Véronique and the first Pelléas in Debussy's masterpiece). Although more ambitious a production than Les Saltimbanques, this pretty fantasy has completely disappeared from the repertoire. This interesting information is provided in the CD notes.

In Act 1 a foundling, Suzanne (Mady Mesplé) has been taken in by the Malicornes, owners of a travelling circus. Her friends are Paillasse, the clown, who is in love with her, Grand-Pingouin, and Hercule, who are also enamoured. At Versailles where the circus has stopped some young officers flirt with Suzanne, but the lieutenant André de Langeac (Claude Calés) puts an end to their banter and asks the young girl to excuse his comrades. Suzanne is not unmoved by the handsome officer's charms, but thinks herself unworthy of him. After an argument with the brutal Malicorne, she refuses to stay with the circus and leaves, joined by her three friends.

Act 2 reveals that Suzanne, Marion, Paillasse and Grand-Pingouin have formed their own small circus troupe, ‘The Gigoletti’. They happen to be in Normandy, near the castle of the Comte des Etiquettes, who is André's uncle. Malicorne has by now tracked down the renegades and wants them arrested on the pretext of owing him money. The Comte des Etiquettes (André Batisse) intervenes, pays the required amount, and asks the circus and ‘The Gigoletti’ to give a show in the castle grounds. Even happier for Suzanne is the arrival of André at the head of his regiment.

Act 3 While the troupe are on stage at the Castle, Suzanne sings a song she learned in childhood, the origins of which she does not know. It is in fact an unpublished composition by the Count. Suzanne is the daughter who had disappeared seventeen years ago. The young entertainer now has no need to be ashamed of her birth; she can marry her lieutenant, to the despair of Paillasse.

Mady Mesplé plays the role of the timid Suzanne with sensitivity and brings pathos and tenderness to the part. Her light soprano voice with characteristic rapid vibrato is well suited to play the young girl. (Try her "Pourquoi vous" CD1 tk.4, & "La bergère Colinette" tk.16 or " Souvent on me fait" CD2 tk.1) Eliane Lublin (Marion) takes an equally large soprano part with a pleasing timbre with good diction and wide register. Try her "C’est l’amour" (CD1 tk.19). Her acting and characterisation is excellent. Raymond Amade (Paillasse) is a light and slightly nasally tenor with good diction and hardly any vibrato. He suits the character. Claude Calès (André) is a wide range baritone who brings confidence and authority to his part as Lieutenant. His military song "En voyant un village" (CD 2 tk.5) is excellent as is his duet with Mesplé which follows.

This 2 CD set is a reissue of LPs released in the 1968. The master tape transfer to CD is excellent. As with other CD sets in the series, the track indexing can be inaccurate in places. With this mid price issue, notes by Michel Parouty in French and English are included.

Further reading: "Operetta", Traubner (Oxford 1883); ‘Musicals", Ganzl (Carlton 1995)

Raymond Walker
Operette series from Universal Accord reviewed by Ray Walker

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