After the wonderful Zampa in 2008, the Opera Comique’s new treat is the other famous opera by Ferdinand Hérold. Given over 1600 times until almost 1950, Le pré aux clercs almost disappeared until now. The libretto by de Planard evolves around two love stories: One is the more dramatic story between Isabelle de Montal, who is promised to the Catholic Marquis de Comminge, but loves, and is loved by, the Baron de Mergy. The other (“lighter” lover story) is between Nicette, god-daughter of Marguerite de Valois and the host Girot. The fact that the plot takes place 10 years after the Saint Bartholomew’s night, that Mergy is a huguenot and Comminge a Catholic is rather unimportant, as are all the historic figures such as Caterina di Medici and king of France, although mentioned several times during the recitatives. The plot flows well between comic and serious, between love stories, duels and even a death by duel, and Hérolds music is so charming and melodious one could easily start singing with each piece. The most beautiful music goes into duets and terzets, while Isabelle’s aria owes much to opera seria, with its long orchestral introduction, a slow initial part,a tempo di mezzo and the florid finale with solo violin.
The cast is a well balanced group of singers with peaks in Marie-Eve Munger’s Isabelle and Michael Spyres’ Mergy. Munger has not a beautiful timbre but the role requires a very wide range, and her technique allows her to master that with ease, including good trills and clean roulades, rendering a touching Isabelle. Mergy finds an excellent interpret in the very motivated Michael Spyres, Hérold’s impervious writing means no hurdles to him. The rest of the cast sings also well, from Marie Lenormand’s Marguerite de Valois with her warm voice and a bronzed timbre to Jaël Azzaretti, a sparkling Nicette, and Christian Helmer as Girot with a strong and captivating voice. Well sing also Emiliano Gonzalez Toro as Gomminge, although the part is slightly too low for him and Eric Huchet as the funnily intriguing courtier Cantarelli. The chorus is also well prepared.
Paul McCreesh does not imprint a very personal touch but he directs with care, supports the singers and accompanies well, which actually makes him a valuable opera conductor.
Eric Ruf directs the singers with little interest, they only act the minimum, especially in the recitatives, which, although spoken, are not easy to follow. The scenes are reduced to a minimum (a few trees, a small facade of the Louvre, and almost no props) but they are functional and the direction allows to frame the period and follow the plot easily.
Direction musicale-Paul McCreesh, Mise en scène et décors- Éric Ruf, Costumes-Renato Bianchi, Lumières-Stéphanie Daniel, Chorégraphe-Glyslein Lefever, Marguerite de Valois-Marie Lenormand, Isabelle de Montal-Marie-Eve Munger, Nicette-Jaël Azzaretti, Baron de Mergy-Michael Spyres, Marquis de Comminge-Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Cantarelli-Eric Huchet, Girot-Christian Helmer, Le brigadier-Olivier Déjean, L’exempt du guet-Grégoire Fohet-Duminil, Les archets-Thomas Roullon et Jean-Christophe Jacques, Danseurs-Anna Konopska, Camille Brulais, Anna Beghelli, Paul Canestraro, Andrea Condorelli, Clement Ledisquay, Chœur, accentus, Orchestre, Orchestre Gulbenkian