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Henri GOUBLIER, son (1888-1951)
La Cocarde de Mimi Piston (The flag of Mimi Piston) (1915)
Operetta (complete, abridged; with dialogue in French)
Liliane Berton (sop) Marie-Louise; Peter Gottlieb (ten) Jean; Max de Rieux (ten) La Mazette;
Simone Silva (sop) Zoe.
Robert Benedetti, director
Rec. Universal Music Studios, Antony, France 1963
2 CD set
DISCOVERY/ACCORD OPERETTE series 461 964-2 [86:41]

This operetta is amongst a series of 20 Musidisc sets that were previously released as LPs and until now have been lost from the catalogue.

Of the series, this is one of the titles I have really enjoyed listening to. The music is fresh-sounding and carries bright melodies with interesting, yet unobtrusive underscoring. Henri Goublier is little known outside France and information about his operettas is scant. Turning to the Grove Dictionary for facts I find there is nothing. There is no mention in Traubner's brilliant book 'Operetta' (about to be published in a new edition), but an Internet page does exist to help anyone wanting further information.

Henri Goublier was the son of a successful song-writing composer. He studied music with help from an older brother as well as a teacher-friend of the family. He attended the Paris Conservatoire, studying piano and harmony under Xavier Leroux. After military service he went as a musician to join the Gaïeté Lyrique theatre orchestra. Here he found a fascination with a side of music lighter than that found at the Conservatoire, and this fired his imagination.

The music here is very much in the mould of a Lehárian style, not unlike The Merry Widow (1905). To me much of its appeal comes from the excellent performance, both in quality of voice and the well judged pacing of this 1965 production. The piece was staged a year after the First World War started and so a military theme in La Cocarde appropriately colours the music and plot. This is not done in a brash way but with the subtlety as used by Donizetti in ‘The Daughter of the Regiment’ (La Fille du Régiment). Along with its march tunes, we find that much of the score is written in a romantic 3/4 time. Goublier's orchestration is light yet exacting, and has interesting undercurrents of pleasant melody to add to the score's appeal.

A ‘cocarde’ (cockade in English) is normally a rosette worn in the hat as emblem or badge of office. Here it is an emblem from the French flag worn on the chest by soldiers in battle.

The scene opens in a sewing workroom run by a Monsieur Robichon and his associate Madame Frivolet (a widow). They sell cockades to raise money for a war charity. One of their workers is Marie-Louise who falls in love with Jean Robichon, the son of her boss. As he is a lieutenant in the army she makes a cocarde for him, but in it she sews a gold coin for luck.

Jean is hurt during battle. But the bullet does not kill him because the coin Marie-Louise sewed into the cocarde he had worn on his breast had protected him.

At first Marie-Louise does not tell him about the coin, but by the end of the operetta Jean discovers it and returns her love for him to provide a happy ending.

Casting provides us with a cast in excellent voice. They are all good lyrical singers having, unusually, superb acting abilities as well. (This is judged from their portrayal of characters in the dialogue sections.)

Liliane Berton as Marie-Louise is a fine light soprano with vibrato prominent in her first number. Peter Gottlieb as Jean is a good, strong tenor fitting his role as a lieutenant. As might be expected, the French producers have subtly introduced realistic sound effects to enhance this performance. (I cringe at the thought of those artificial effects used in Britain's Decca Phase 4 series.)

A change in the sound stage was noticed at tk.5 (CD2) where the chorus is brittle and treble-heavy while the orchestra becomes bass heavy. The soloists are not affected, however. I found the music interesting: CD1 tk.5 reveals simple yet effective orchestration where the xylophone (coupled with flute decoration) occupies a presence. CD1 tk.9 shows that this forgotten composer is forward-looking and anticipates the musicals likely be written ten and twenty years later. It is unlikely that the xylophone would have been widely used in 1915 or was it introduced into the score during a later revision?

Notes on Goublier and the plot are in French.

Raymond Walker

Operette series from Universal Accord reviewed by Ray Walker


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