Another rarity is presented yet again by the very courageous Opera Comique. Le timbre d’argent, Saint-Saens first ever composed opera, created in 1865…but for various reasons not performed until 1877. The last revision by the composer (chosen for the present revival) was performed in Brussels in 1904. Overall I was extremely happy to hear such an operatic rarity and a few minor glitches in the libretto (banally moralistic in christian sauce) the music (has some drops in tension and lacks some lyricism probably due to the fledging opera-composer) or the setting (a bit cheap looking) did not lessen the high quality of the performance.
The story evolves around the painter Conrad loved by Hélène but not loved in return. Conrad is poor, very sick and in love with the dancer Fiammetta. The devilish doctor visits him while Hélène and her sister Rosa, who is about to marry Bénédict, pray to the virgin for his recovery. The doctor returns as the devil, gives Conrad a silver bell which, when struck, will give him Fiammetta’s love and richness at the cost of a death. Throughout the plot, the devil tempts Conrad to strike the bell for money, the first death is Hélène’s father, the second Bénédict who dies during the wedding ceremony. At the end Conrad breaks the bell which breaks the spell and he wakes up to Hélène and Rosa singing the beginning’s prayer, and he realizes that all was dream. General praise to God, hallelujah and curtain
The conductor François-xavier Roth was almost excellent, from the very bubbly overture throughout the entire score (maybe a bit more rubato would have underlined some crucial parts of the score), marvellous in displaying the richness of Saint-Saens orchestration and colours. Hélène Guilmette and Tassis Chrystoyannis were very good as Hélène and the devilish Spiridion. A pity that Edgaras Montvidas’ tenor had no Hoffmannesque ringing top notes but rather hard and dry ones, reached with some strain. Excellent the Bénédict of Yu Shao and Jodie Devos’ Rosa. Such a pity that the good voices of Hélène, Rosa and Bénedict received such short roles at the cost of Fiammetta, a mute dancer’s role. The setting department was clearly on a budget, but nonetheless it was effective enough in some scenes although a higher regard to the mysterious and devilish would have been much appreciated and I could have done without some of the magic tricks. All in all a highly satisfying and enjoyable rediscovery.
Direction musicale François-Xavier Roth, Mise en scène Guillaumes Vincent, Décors-James Brandily, Création video-Baptist Klein, Costumes-Fanny Brouste, Lumières-Kelig Le Bars, Chorégraphie-Herman Diephuis, Effets magiques-Benoît Dattez, Circe/Fiammetta-Raphaelle Delaunay, Conrad Edgaras-Montvidas, Hélène-Hélène Guilmette, Spiridion-Tassis Chrystoyannis, Bénédict-Yu Shao, Rosa-Jodie Devos, 11 juin 2017, pictures Pierre Grosbois.