History: One regularly encounters operatic works that are, to put it simply, unknown to today's public, no matter how explosively popular they were in their own time: most of Donizetti's operas were saved from being completely forgotten by the recent belcanto revival. But even more common is another situation, when one of the numbers becomes more popular than the work as a whole: an ideal example is the duet, "Au fond du temple", from Bizet's "Les pecheurs de perles", known primarily because of the renown of the mentioned number. The work we approach in the confines of this upload has a similar history: though once spectacularly famous, "Le postillon de Lonjumeau", a work considered to be among Adam's best, has almost completely disappeared from the repertoire; the few sporadic revivals have not managed to reinstate its former fame. Its origins are briefly recounted: after considering a text by Planard, "L'eclair", Adam accepted a libretto from de Leuven and Brunswick, entitled "Une voix". Its successful premiere, under the more familiar title, took place on 13th October, 1836, and further established the career of the tenor Jean-Baptiste Chollet. Wagner, they say, later spent a sleepless night trying to get the tunes of Adam's creation out of his head. And yet only Chapelou's joyous "Mes amis, ecoutez l'histoire" still haunts tenor recitals to this very day, while the opera has virtually disappeared from view.
Narrative: Adam's libretto is a quite prospective one, offering the composer brilliant contrasts between the rustic and the city world: the postillon of the title (the coachman who rides the left-hand lead horse in a coach horse team), Chapelou (tenor), is discovered singing in a public market by the manager of the Paris Opera (baritone) who forthwith offers him a contract to sing at his theater. Dazzled by his prospects, Chapelou abandons his new bride, Madeleine (soprano). Ten years pass, and Chapelou, under the alias of Saint-Phar, is invited to visit a certain Madame de Latour, falls in love with her, discovers she is actually his wife (now well-to-do owing to an inheritance) and is finally reunited with her.
Music: I began listening to the opera with the already mentioned rondo as a kind of guideline, a piece to which the other parts of the opera might be compared, but, rather unsettlingly, I found the former to be the one true highlight of the work. The basic idiom is the same as in the case of Boieldieu's similarly lightish "La dame blanche" which, among other things, shares the later work's vocal distribution and basic musical language. Both works put great pressure on the tenor's voice by giving the voice almost extreme presence (indeed, in both cases the heroes have no fewer than three arias), while all, even their respective love interests, are forced somewhat into the background. Both works provide the audience with light, easily appealing, sometimes distinctive music: in the case of Adam, a perfect example is a parody of a romantic notturno, appearing as the central section of the couple's second duet, that plays with the traditional notions of belcanto. Adam is also extremely successful in contrasting the earlier rustic simplicity and the later aristocratic elegance of the young couple whose changes of heart and social class are treated in three humorous duets, one for each of the acts. However, the quality of Adam's music is highly irregular even in individual numbers: several memorable themes notwithstanding, only the rondo is unquestionably charming and delightful from start to finish, while most of the other pieces feature little more that the traditional jumpy rhythms, sparse accompaniment and lightweight vocal lines. The score, however, is a perfect example of Adam's mission which was "to write transparent, easy to understand and pleasing to the public". And his realization of this ideal is complete.
Recording: The Fulton 1985 recording (released by EMI) is competently done on almost all levels: the idiomatic Jean Laforge Choral Ensemble and the bright Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. The individual singers are a bit uneven, the two basses, both being veterans of this genre, are irreproachable, while the two lovers are slightly less ideal: Aler, both charming and technically secure, lacks only just a bit of robustness to provide the needed extra thrill, while Anderson's grand manner is somewhat out of sorts with the character which would need to be more pure-voiced to properly engage the listener (McNair would be my first choice). Still, it is an excellent account of a traditionally difficult score with virtually no flaws (the above-mentioned points are, of course, my personal opinions).
John Aler - Chapelou,
June Anderson - Madeleine,
Francois Le Roux - Le Marquis de Corcy,
Jean-Phillippe Lafont - Bijou (bass-baritone), a friend of Chapelou,
Balvina de Courcelles - Rose (soprano), Madeleine's chambermaid.
Hope you'll enjoy :).