Postillon de Lonjumeau at Opéra Comique

Being deprived of live performances has created opportunities for searching among videos available online for famous works on the borders of the repertory which have always eluded one. In the last few months, I have caught up with, for example, Spontini’s La Vestale, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and Dallapiccola’s Volo di Notte, all of them interesting and powerful pieces. One can also find prominent singers whose stage appearances have had to be missed for reasons of travelling distance, cost of tickets or unlucky timing. So, for two reasons, I was delighted to find on You Tube a recorded streaming from the Paris Opéra Comique of Adolphe Adam’s Postillon de Lonjumeau, starring the American tenor Michael Spyres,

The work is known primarily for its famous aria, and almost signature tune, “Oh qu’il beau, le postillon de Lonjumeau” a favourite showpiece for tenors with brilliant high notes. But, as this performance revealed, it is much more than a “one-aria opera”. It is full of rollicking good tunes, some delightful duets, as well as virtuoso writing for both tenor and soprano. The plot is admittedly silly, but that is not unusual for the first half of the 19th century, and the rhyming couplets of the libretto are engaging and witty. It also satirises opera and opera administration in the manner of Donizetti’s Viva la Mama.

Michel Fau’s production, along with the vivid, richly coloured designs of Emmanuel Charles and costumes of Christian Lacroix, astutely presented the comic opera as a picture book fable, with exaggerated characterisation and stylised gesture. It worked very well, as did Sebastian Rouland’s lively conducting of the Opéra de Rouen Orchestra (the production was shared with that company).

Spyres in the title role was indeed impressive. His voice has an attractive timbre and lilt, and singing in an unusually relaxed mode, he pulled off the high notes with aplomb. Dramatically, he convincingly combined vanity with artful opportunistic deviance. There is much spoken text in his part and the quality of his French was remarkably high. The Canadian soprano Florie Vanquette was his spirited lover, expertly shifting demeanour and accent from village innkeeper to a lady of noblesse. Vocally, she was assured though somewhat stretched by the demands of her Act Two, much decorated, aria.  Those filling the smaller roles were competent rather than striking but that was less important since their contribution was mainly limited to comic interplay and musical ensembles.

Altogether a satisfying introduction to a most enjoyable example of opéra-comique and, Yes, on this showing, Spyres is something special.