by Sam Juliano
The appearance of eighteenth-century opera on CD is a blessing for both fans of opera comique and those looking to broaden the horizons of a form that takes risks far too infrequently. The French composer Francois-Andre Danican Philador is thought to be the first to achieve real distinction in a style that eventually merged with Italian opera in the early nineteenth century, in the form of comedy buffa. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Don Giovanni are seminal works in the later category. Philador’s major contribution to the emergence of the opera comique as a respectable musical genre, is the application of realistic characters and situations. It can be concluded that he handled his limited orchestral resources cleverly, and the vocal lines are rich, melodious and descriptive.
History does relate that there were charges of plaguerism against Philador, published years after his death from the likes of Berlioz and other music critics that he had plundered the work of Gluck, Galuppi, Pergolesi and Jommelli. The fact that Philador had actually seen Gluck’s Orfeo opened him up for accusations for music that he wrote for Ernelinde and Le Sorcier, two operas that bear more than remarkable similarities. But both the dubious degree of intent and the non-consumation of such charges should stop the skeptics in their tracks, and allow Philador’s standing to hold sway for this style and time period. The composer’s most famous (and best) opera is Tom Jones, composed in 1765, and presented in three acts. Sancho Panza, which was recently recorded and released by Opera Lafayette with Ryan Brown conducting, is considered a more obscure Philador work, but it has gained in reputation over the past decades. Antoine-Alexandre Poinsinet (1735-1769) created the libretto of Sancho Panca from a particularly mean-spirited passage in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The knight of the mournful countenance has promised his simple-minded squire, Sancho Panza, the governership of an island for his faithful service – a dream that the duke and dutchess features in Part 2 fullfill as part of an elaborate series of tricks played on Don Quixote and Sancho. When faced with the real demands of governing the imaginary land -the island of Barataria – Sancho quickly renounces all interest in being a governor. (more…)