Classical Lost and Found
, August 2012
…Timpani gives us the two act Le coeur du moulin (The Heart of the Mill) by Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921). Known mostly for his piano music, he did dabble in stage works with this being his only surviving opera. It must have been a labor of love judging from its long gestation period that began in 1901 and ended with the finalized version of 1908 presented here.
The libretto…based on the play Le Retour (date unknown) by French writer Maurice Magre…is a collaboration between the author and composer. Set in the same Languedoc region of France as Le Flem’s opera, but in the late eighteenth century, it also shows the influence of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-8) in the vocal lines. However, the orchestral writing is more Western, and at times recalls Vincent d’Indy…
In two acts each consisting of an introduction and seven scenes, it’s scored for six principal soloists, chorus and a full-size orchestra. After a somber opening [track-1] that builds in excitement, the curtain goes up revealing a rustic village with an old well and windmill in the background. This will be the setting for the whole opera.
The first scene is a rousing celebratory ensemble number [track-2] for the local grape Harvesters, lovely Marie and her friend Louison, plus some Villagers. Little sprinklings of celesta [01:17 and 02:50] make the music all the more phosphorescent.
The next scene [track-3] introduces Jacques, who was once engaged to Marie, but left the village without marrying her, and is now returning after a long absence. In the meantime she has married his old friend Pierre.
Jacques enters singing a jolly folkish ditty (JF) [00:00], followed by some fetching magic choruses representing the voices of the Well [03:08], Windmill [04:13] and Nature 05:52]. A poignant exchange between him and Marie [track-4] having all the drama of Massenet…follows. In it they reaffirm their love for one another and plan to run off, thus establishing the love triangle driving the opera.
The concluding four scenes introduce Pierre [tracks-5 and 6], Jacques’ godfather [track-7], who’s the old and wise Miller, and his Mother [track-8]. The act ends in another oenological encomium by the Harvesters, and a sage pronouncement from the Miller about the indelible stain love leaves on the human heart.
After a somewhat impressionistic twilit introduction [track-9], the second act curtain goes up on the same scene. The Harvesters enter [track-10] praising wine, and announce the arrival of the Villagers, who come in to a catchy rustic march (CR) [track-11]. This is followed by a charming choral dance [track-12] based on folk material from Longuedoc and nearby Catalonia. All exit to a jaunty number [track-13] with colorful xylophonic trills and recollections of CR [01:57], leaving the Miller alone on the stage.
He’s soon joined by Marie [track-14], who declares her love for Jacques and intention of going away with him. He’s then heard approaching with a vocalized version of JF [03:06], and the Miller asks her to leave for a moment so he can speak with him. He enters and the Miller implores him in an emotionally charged exchange [track-15] to immediately leave the village, thereby preventing a breakup between Marie and Pierre.
But the Mother appears [track-16], and along with the voices of the Well [05:55] and Nature [07:37] entreats him to stay. Embellishments on the celesta [07:51] and the distant sound of hunting horns [08:54] as well as the Angelus bell [09:03 and 09:48] add color to the score.
However life is never easy, and we next hear [track-17] the cry of a wise old Owl (Jacques’ conscience?) counseling him to leave sans Marie. This is followed by the voices of the Mill [01:34] telling Jacques of its intention to invoke some of his childhood memories. The scene then ends with the Miller admonishing Jacques and his Mother about the suffering he’ll cause Pierre if he takes Marie away. This effects a change of heart in the Mother, who now encourages her son to go.
The next scene opens as four “Dream Characters” emerge from the mill [track-18] reminding Jacques of his childhood, and encouraging him to be on his way. It closes with a moving ensemble number for him and the Villagers in which reason prevails and he heads down the path out of town. The opera’s last scene [track-19] has the Mother telling Marie of his departure, and Marie falling grief-stricken into her arms. The Villagers then sing a final chorus acclaiming autumn and the altruistic Jacques.
The cast includes sopranos Sophie Marin-Degor (Marie) and Sabine Revault d’Allonnes (Louison, Owl, Corn Fairy Dream Character), mezzo-sopranos Marie-Thérèse Keller (Mother) and Anna Destraël (Rounds Fairy Dream Character), tenor Christophe Berry (Pierre, Beggar Dream Character), baritones Jean-Sébastien Bou (Jacques) and Pierre-Yves Pruvot (Miller), as well as bass Frédéric Bourreau (Old Christmas Dream Character).
All of them deliver technically accomplished, sensitive performances that bring out the naive charm of this Gallic oddity. The Tours Opera Chorus and Regional Center Symphony Orchestra under conductor Jean-Yves Ossonce give them committed support, making for an excellent account of this long lost stage work. © 2012 Classical Lost and Found Read complete review