The concert presented by Opera Lafayette at the Alliance Française last Friday and Saturday was devoted to music of witty, short-lived Emmanuel Chabrier, notably Une Éducation Manquée. This operetta-comique (given precisely once in Chabrier’s brief lifetime and never orchestrated) included four or five numbers to piano accompaniment, outlining about five minutes worth of plot. 

Among the artists, Sophie Junker sang with crystalline purity of line and elegant diction, while Amel Brahim-Djelloul, the principal focus of the evening’s “opera,” supplied a dark and attractive mezzo for the frustrated adolescent trouser role on his wedding night.

Dominique Côté had the evening’s most elaborate number, a patter song about all the subjects on which he (a tutor named Pausanias) has instructed his pupil, Gontran (Ms. Brahim-Djelloul), all scholarly but inadequate to the purposes of a wedding night. (Nor would their rhyming wit impress their exact contemporary, the modern major-general across the water.) No one could object to the talents of the three singers; their performances gave great pleasure.

In order to give this infinitesimal anecdote more time to breathe, Opera Lafayette preceded it with five little Chabrier mélodies on the lives and loves of assorted fauna, enacted as if told to small children by tutor and maiden aunt: ducklings, pigs, a tortoise, chickens, cicadas. They were delicious, especially the duckling and the cicadas, and it’s a pity they don’t turn up more often on recital programs. Here, however, it was difficult to believe that children brought up on such helpful observations of the barnyard could reach the altar still in ignorance of the facts of life.

The whole show may have lasted three quarters of an hour, with dialogue. It felt like a cute curtain-raiser, and one might reasonably hope for a main course to follow. But there was no main course on this incomplete occasion. Couldn’t they have added to the Chabrier a one-acter of Bizet or Gounod or even Offenbach?

Ryan Brown, who helms the company and conducts a full orchestra when there is one, led the singers and the piano on this occasion, the latter being played by Jeffrey Watson. The costumes were chic, the production minimal.

Photo: Louis Forget