About this Recording
8.660353 - PHILIDOR, F.-A. D.: Femmes Vengées (Les) [Opéra-comique] (Debono, Figueroa, Thompson, Opera Lafayette Orchestra, R. Brown)
English 

François-André Danican Philidor (1726–1795)
Les Femmes Vengées (1775)

 

An opéra-comique in one act

Libretto by Michel-Jean Sedaine (1719–1797)
Edition: Opera Lafayette

Opera Lafayette thanks Catherine Hubbard and the Bibliothèque municipale de Rouen for their assistance in obtaining copies of the 18th-century parts.

Madame Riss – Claire Debono, Soprano
Madame la Présidente – Pascale Beaudin, Soprano
Madame Lek – Blandine Staskiewicz, Mezzo-soprano
Monsieur Riss – Jeffrey Thompson, Tenor
Monsieur le Président – Antonio Figueroa, Tenor
Monsieur Lek – Alex Dobson, Baritone

Opera Lafayette
Ryan Brown, Conductor and Artistic Director
www.operalafayette.org

In 2014 Opera Lafayette presented Mozart and Da Ponte’s Così fan tutte and Philidor and Sedaine’s Les Femmes Vengées together, on the same set and with the same cast. We were inspired to do so perhaps because, during the course of Opera Lafayette’s explorations of 18th-century French opera, we have discovered many different ways in which French opera influenced Mozart. In Les Femmes Vengées we found a precedent for Così which not only calls for similar vocal soloists, but also has a tantalizing mirror image plot. Sedaine’s plot, even though written before Da Ponte’s, seemed as if it might function as a humorous third act to Così, taking place after the couples have been married for several years. The three room set for Les Femmes Vengées, so integral to Sedaine’s conception, worked easily for Cosìas well. In order to be able to perform both operas together, as we did in New York and Versailles, Nick Olcott, our director, made cuts in Così, and we performed it in French, with dialogue rather than sung recitative, as would have been done in Paris at the Opéra Comique. We performed the complete music of Les Femmes Vengées, but with some cuts in the spoken word. This recording includes the complete music of Les Femmes Vengées, with the complete text available on the Naxos website at www.naxos.com/libretti/660353.htm.

Ryan Brown

On 20 March 1775, the Comédie Italienne premièred a new opéra-comique, Les Femmes Vengées (The Avenged Women), by Francois-André Danican Philidor (1726–1795), based on a play in verse by Michel-Jean Sedaine (1719–1797). It was well received, breaking a long spell of lukewarm receptions to Philidor’s stage works since the huge success of Tom Jones in 1766. In fact, it was still being performed three years later, when Mozart visited Paris in search of employment. In view of the structural similarities between Les Femmes Vengées and Mozart’s later opera, Così fan tutte (1791), it is not impossible that Mozart was influenced by one of the seven performances that the Comédie Italienne gave of Les Femmes Vengées during his stay in Paris.

Sedaine took the story of Les Femmes Vengées from a tale by Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1696), Les Rémois, which was published in his third book of tales in 1671. This was the fourth time that Sedaine crafted a libretto from a tale of La Fontaine. He had previously written On ne s’avise jamais de tout (1761) and Le Faucon (1772) for Monsigny, and Le magnifique (1773) for Grétry (Naxos 8.660305).

Madame Riss, the wife of a successful painter, informs her friends, Madame la Présidente, wife of a prominent local official, and Madame Lek, wife of the Lieutenant to Monsieur le Président, that both of their husbands have been making indecent proposals to her. She urges her friends to keep silent about it, but to come back that evening for dinner, when a trick that she has hatched with her own husband will be played on the two philandering husbands. The ladies take leave and Madame Riss prepares herself to receive the straying husbands to dinner, while her own husband is supposedly out of town.

Monsieur le Président and Monsieur Lek arrive at the appointed hour and flirt with Madame Riss while she is setting the meal on the table. They are about to enjoy an evening of food and love when Monsieur Riss returns home “unexpectedly”. Madame Riss quickly hides them in an adjoining room and pretends that the table is set for a dinner with her two lady friends.

While Madame Riss goes to fetch her friends, Monsieur Riss rhapsodizes, for the benefit of the two men in the adjoining room, of his anticipated happiness in seeing the woman he loves come to dinner. The two men in hiding panic: whose wife could it be?

Madame Riss returns with her two lady friends and the clever revenge unfolds. Monsieur Riss is left alone, in turn, with each of the wives, pretending to seduce them, while the husbands, locked in the adjoining room, listen, unable to speak out for fear of betraying their infidelities. Of course the wives pretend to fall in love with Monsieur Riss, much to the consternation of their locked-up husbands.

Finally, Monsieur Riss leaves to accompany the two ladies back to their homes. Thinking that they are finally alone with Madame Riss, the two men emerge from the adjoining room, throw themselves at her feet and demand that she help them avenge themselves on their wayward wives. But, as they do so, Monsieur Riss returns with the two ladies, who confront their husbands over their attempted infidelities.

Properly chastised, the men admit their errors and their wives forgive them. All six agree that love and marriage are much more pleasant when husband and wife do not put each other to the test.

On this amusing plot, Philidor has created a lighthearted sparkling score with many ensembles (three duets, three trios, one quartet and one sextet).

After an overture in one movement (Allegro) [1], depicting with its march like theme, followed by a series of repeated notes, the triumph of the women and their laughter at their husbands’ defeat, Madame Riss, as leader of the revenge scheme, is presented in two succeeding ariettes. In the first, Femmes charmantes [2], she exposes how best to get even with deceitful men by using kindness and flattery, rather than sharpness and ill-temper. Then, having welcomed her lady friends, she bemoans, in her second ariette, Ah, pauvres femmes [3] the plight of women in the hands of unappreciative men. Both ariettes are in da capo form, the middle sections being in contrasting keys and meters.

A trio for the three women follows, Consolez-vous [4], in which the individual women’s reactions to the news are very well contrasted: while Madame la Présidente is utterly dismayed, Madame Lek is outraged and Madame Riss tries vainly to console them. In the end, Madame Riss pushes her friends out the door, because she is expecting the arrival of their husbands.

A third ariette of Madame Riss follows, Un petit coup d’oeil [5], while she coquettishly looks at herself in the mirror to make certain that she is irresistibly seductive. Her ariette is interrupted by the husbands’ knocking on the door. She proceeds with the repeat of the first part of her ariette to keep them waiting and further heighten their impatience.

The effusive duet of the two husbands, Ah, quel plaisir [6], is interrupted by the “unexpected” return of Monsieur Riss, leading to a quick trio during which Madame Riss hides the two husbands in an adjoining room.

Left alone while Madame Riss has left to fetch her lady friends, Monsieur Riss sings an ariette urging the god of lovers to make the woman reciprocate his love, Dieu des amants [7].

Madame Riss returns with her two friends. Under the pretext of going to the cellar to fetch some wine, with the help of Madame la Présidente, she leaves Monsieur Riss alone with Madame Lek. Monsieur Riss declares his love to Madame Lek, who defends herself weakly. She escapes to the garden followed by Monsieur Riss.

Having witnessed the amorous advances of Monsieur Riss, Monsieur Lek bursts forth in a lamenting duet, Où courez-vous [8], while Monsieur le Président, who tries to calm him down, finally convinces him to follow the course of their amorous enterprise.

But Monsieur Riss and Madame Lek return from their walk in the garden. In the quartet that follows, Quoi? Vous pleurez [9], Monsieur Riss becomes more insistent and Madame Lek puts up a weaker defence, while the two locked-up husbands comment on the action diversely.

Meanwhile, Madame Riss and Madame la Présidente return. As they sit, enjoying their dinner, Monsieur Riss sings an ariette, comparing himself to Paris, who had to choose between three goddesses, but more favourably, since Monsieur Riss is actually loved by three women, Quand Pâris sur le Mont Ida [10].

Monsieur Riss invites Madame Lek to sing something to entertain the company. She sings a romance, Si jamais je fais un ami [11], in praise of discretion in love. Monsieur Riss follows it with another verse, agreeing with Madame Riss that one cherishes love when it is accompanied by mystery.

Now it is the turn of Madame la Présidente to sing, and she embarks on a show-stopping virtuoso ariette, De la coquette volage [12].

An argument is about to start between Madame Lek and Madame la Présidente, which Monsieur Riss defuses by requesting from his wife more wine. This time Madame Lek accompanies Madame Riss to the cellar, leaving Monsieur Riss alone with Madame la Présidente. The latter declares her love to Monsieur Riss, much to the confusion of her husband, locked in the adjoining room. Monsieur Riss tries to escape to the garden, followed by Madame la Présidente.

In the following duet, Oui, dans ma fureur [13], Monsieur le Président pours forth his indignation and anger, while Monsieur Lek tries to restrain him using the very same musical motif and words that Monsieur le Président used to calm him down in their previous duet.

Returning from the cellar, Madame Lek and Madame la Présidente feign to have an argument and decide to leave. Monsieur Riss offers to accompany them to their homes.

Monsieur le Président and Monsieur Lek throw themselves at the feet of Madame Riss, asking her to revenge herself on her husband by giving herself up to their amorous entreaties (Trio: Ah, Madame, à vos pieds [14]). They are discovered by Monsieur Riss returning with Madame la Présidente and Madame Lek, and in a tumultuous ensemble each party accuses the other of infidelity. The men try to pretend it was all in jest, but Monsieur Riss does not take it so lightly and forces the men to apologize to their wives, who at first refuse to forgive their husbands, before finally relenting. In the final vaudeville, Ne donnons jamais à nos femmes [15], all agree that to make married life more agreeable it is best not to look too closely at it. To round out the score, Philidor brings back a subsidiary motif first heard in the overture, under the words of the refrain, Mais pour rendre agréable la vie. A final chorus closes the work [16].

Nizam Peter Kettaneh


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