Opérette in 1 act
Composer: Jacques Offenbach
Libretto: Jules Noriac & Philippe Gille
First performed: Bouffes-Parisiens, 13 October 1876
This one-act operetta tells the old tale of the wealthy guardian who wants to marry his ward, to the chagrin of both her boyfriend and the middle-aged woman who loves him.
It takes place in Paris, at the home of Cyrille Durand, a wealthy button merchant.
M. Durand was awarded a life-saving medal five years ago for controlling a runaway horse – but he deems it unworthy to wear the medal, for all he did was to hold the bridle of the calmed beast. He wants, though, to save someone’s life, so he has moved near the river, so he can save anyone who may drown, and he even hangs around the most dangerous street corners in Paris.
The good man has, he believes, saved two lives: Jacquot, a Savoyard urchin, and, two years later, Pierrette, whom he found at the Gare de Lyon. (Savoy is a mountainous province in the east of France, close to Switzerland and Italy.)
But this is no coincidence. The two are cousins and sweethearts, and Jacquot persuaded his girl to come to Paris and be adopted by Durand. The two now want to come clean, and get married.
But M. Durand has other ideas. He wants to marry Pierrette, while his neighbour, Mme Patacha, wants to marry him.
It is M. Durand’s name day, the feast of St. Cyril. The young couple dress in their native costumes, and sing traditional Savoyard songs, accompanying themselves on the vieille.
M. Durand reveals his plan to marry Pierrette. The other three are thunderstruck – but at that moment, news comes that someone is drowning in the Seine. M. Durand runs out to rescue them. While he is gone, the Savoyards dictate a letter, confessing all.
M. Durand returns, dripping wet. Instead of rescuing someone, he fell into the river – and the “drowning man” – a dog – pulled him to safety. The adventure has given M. Durand time to change his mind. He will marry Mme Patacha, while Pierrette and Jacquot can pair off.
Offenbach, the story goes, was returning from a grueling but profitable concert tour of the United States. While travelling by train, the idea came to him to compose a one-act work for Cécile and Esther Gregoire, two sisters from a great family of Italian actors, whom he’d met in Strasbourg. Offenbach and his collaborators wrote the little piece in only a day. The piece was performed at his theatre, the Bouffes-Parisiens, on a double bill with Jules Duprato’s M’sieu Landry (1856), and was given 53 times that season.
Pierrette and Jacquot may be a trifle, but it’s an agreeable one. Jacquot’s couplets “Peux-tu parler d’attendre”, is in Offenbach’s later tender vein, and then becomes a fun duet with Pierrette. The dinner quartet “A table ! mes amis !” and the Savoyard rondo, with yodelling (“You!”), is delightful. And the letter duet is another of Offenbach’s successes in that line (see La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein and La Périchole).
If you’ve got half an hour to spare, you could do worse than listen to this.
There is one recording:
Lina Dachary (Pierrette), Jean-Claude Orliac (Jacquot), Magda Liermann (Mme Patacha), and Joseph Peyron (M. Durand), with the Orchestre lyrique de l’ORTF conducted by Alain Pâris.
A narrator replaces the spoken dialogue, and Jacquot is sung by a tenor, rather than a soprano. Full of charm.