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Roger DUMAS (1897-1951)
Ignace operetta (1935)
complete, with dialogue in French
Fernandel (bar) Ignace Boitaclou; Robert Piquet (ten) Serge de Montroc; Eliane Varon (sop) Annette; Eliane Thibault (sop) Monique; Line May (sop) Loulette
Orchestra and choir directed by André Grassi
Rec. Universal (Decca) Studios, Antony, France 1967
2 CDs for the price of one

Little is recorded about this composer. Roger Dumas, born in Salindres in 1897, comes from the Gard district in southern France. He was sent to the Conservatory in Nîmes, where he was such a brilliant pupil that well before adulthood he was transferred to the Grande Conservatoire in Paris. He later became a successful teacher at the Toulon Conservatoire where he began to write songs.

There was a Casino in Toulon where light vocal works were performed, and where he became the titular conductor, soaking up every treasure of a music form that rarely takes itself seriously. In 1924, in Toulon he presented his first operetta, Flouette. This little piece attracted the attention of film producers and he went on to receive commissions for film scores, among them Marine Blue. But he later returned to operetta with Ignace (1935), The Casino Dancer (1937), The Picture Hunters (1947) and Oscar (1949). He was only 55 when he died in Paris on June 15, 1951 due to an illness that he concealed.

With a book and lyrics by Jean Manse, Ignace was first produced at the Théâtre de Variéties in Marseilles in 1935 and with instant success was quickly transferred to Paris. The city's première took place at the Théâtre Lyrique National. It had Fernandel in the cast alongside Alice Tissot and Simone Rouvrière. Dumas was Fernandel's accompanist and Fernandel's brother-in-law was Ignace's librettist.

For a year it was a solid hit in Paris before embarking on a provincial tour. Within two years, a film of Ignace was released and contributed to the fame of Fernandel, one of France's most original comedy artists. During a revival (1948) at the Etoile Théâtre with Fernandel as Ignace, Sabine André and Irène Hilda, the composer added two divertissements to the original score and re-shaped the piece from three to two acts.

The Plot: In a garrison town of the 1930s, Colonel Romuald Durozier, a man of dignity, loses his when he sees Loulette, a ravishingly beautiful actress and cast-off of Baron Gidéon des Orfraies, or Chouchouille, as she has nicknamed him. The Colonel's wife has the character of a shopgirl. The Baron, a hypocrite and scoundrel of a man, pays her court in private. Monique, an 18 year old beauty and the daughter of the "father of the Regiment", is in love with a dashing young lawyer named Serge de Montroc. There is also the maid, Annette, who enjoys looking after the colonel's young officers, amongst whom we find Ignace Boitaclou, a recent recruit, who witnesses the plots, muddles and intrigues whilst behaving as everyone's confidant. Comic and sentimental songs, duets and choruses punctuate the goings-on. In short, it is a military musical with little subtlety but much good fun: it is entertaining and ends happily.

This 1967 recording must have captured one of the last performances by Fernandel. He was long past his best, but the resulting recording is of nostalgic interest all the same. My only real reservation is that he is present in so many of the Act II and Act III tracks where a stronger sense of musicality would have been beneficial. Elaine Thibault comes across with a somewhat brittle voice when singing forte in 'Un mari' (tr.2) yet sounds extremely good and pleasantly velvety in her duet with Robert Piquet (tr.4). Eliane Varon conveys charm and comes across as attractively mischievous, which is ideal for the part.

Not really an operetta, Ignace is much more a series of revue numbers linked by dialogue. The music carries a strong rhythm and is of the easy going, easy listening variety and within one of the numbers I even felt I recognised the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang theme.

Brief notes in French are provided in the attractive card case.

Raymond Walker

Operette series from Universal Accord reviewed by Ray Walker


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