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L'Etoile 7 February 1941, Geneva£7.99 Buy now
Has a funnier opera ever been written? None other, surely, with a Kissing Quartet, a Couplet of Impalement or a choral can-can of crocodile tears. L'Etoile has survived and occasionally prospered in Francophone countries, but its very Frenchness has perhaps told against its fortunes abroad.
Only a French cast can keep up with the speed of Chabrier's mordant musical wit; thankfully all of us can get the jokes, and enjoy them all the more when despatched with the almost frenetic delight mustered here, mid-war, in a broadcast from neutral Geneva. The recording has been available before, but from a source and with a remastering that many will consider inferior to the new mpLIVE version.
At the head of that cast, as the absurd, capricious King Ouf, is Hugues Cuénod, the French tenor whose unique, reedy timbre and astonishingly secure pitching graces several mpLIVE issues, including Le nozze di Figaro and The Golden Cockerel. Alongside him, as the travesti hero of the piece, is that peerless French soprano Ninon Vallin, whose bright timbre and innate sense of style could put many younger interpreters of the role to shame.