Annette et Lubin


Live recording (recorded by members of the OPERA Editorial office) “Musik im Landtag” (Mainz) 28th May 2013 with reduced orchestra, Soprano: Elisabeth Scholl
Air „Monseigneur, Lubin m'aime“

Annette - soprano (c’-g’’)
Lubin - tenor (Bb-a’)
Le Seigneur - tenor (e-a’)
Le Bailli - tenor (Bb-g’)
Le Domestique - baritone (e-e’)
Arlequin - baritone (e-f’)
Le Carillonneur - baritone (e-f’)

The ton d’Opéra was roughly a whole-step beneath today’s chamber pitch. This same tuning probably applied to the Comédie-Italienne.

2 flutes
Strings (vn1, vn 2, va, b)
Basso continuo

Theme and Plot

All the works of Justine Favart deal with one and the same theme: ‘natural’ first love, free from the strictures of money or social standing but externally imperilled by rich, powerful, aristocratic interlopers. Favart invariably ‘tailored’ her main female characters to suit her own strengths, always playing the role of the ‘simple’ country girl. Today the best-known of the six works she explicitly published under her name is surely the musical comedy Les amours de Bastien et Bastienne of 1753, which the young Mozart would famously set to music later. But Mozart’s setting had no impact on the 18th-century public, whereas Mme Favart’s original enjoyed widespread success far beyond the confines of Paris. In 1753 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as librettist-cum-composer, had just mounted a work at the Opéra entitled Le devin du village (The village soothsayer). Together with a series of productions by an Italian opera troupe, it was destined to rattle the foundations of the established French operatic tradition of Lully/Quinault and their successors. Bolstered by the political and ethical debates of the early Enlightenment, it offered a radical simplification of both text and music and aspired to the ideal of ‘naturalness’ in art, specifically in the theatre. Bastien et Bastienne transferred Le devin du village from the Opéra to the Comédie-Italienne, where, as befitted the tradition of that house, it was accompanied by the use of musical quotations and familiar tunes. But Favart also achieved an entirely new level of seriousness in the business of parody, an entirely new realism in stage acting (including costumes) and a volte-face from a primarily ironic treatment of music toward its ‘genuine’ use as a vehicle for the expression of ‘true’ feelings.

The same applied to what is perhaps Favart’s best libretto, the verse comedy Annette et Lubin, written some ten years after Bastien et Bastienne at the very end of her output for the stage. The plot is closely patterned on Marmontel’s literary original, an histoire véritable based on a contemporary incident in the northern French town of Cormeilles. In Marmontel’s tale the love between Lubin and his cousin Annette is roundly condemned by a bailiff (‘the man of the law’). Annette is expecting an illegitimate child, which the bailiff (Le Bailli), who himself has designs on the young woman, uses as an opportunity to threaten and blackmail her. Only by marrying him, he claims, can she save herself from being damned by church and society. But Annette and her lover Lubin succeed, through a combination of spirited defence and a plea for mercy, in gaining the protection of the local lord or count (Le Seigneur). The story thus ends happily with a conciliatory gesture from the lord of the manor (‘a man as wise as he is virtuous’). He even declares himself willing to write ‘to Rome’ so that the two lovers can marry, thereby expiating their ‘crime’.

For the purposes of the stage, Favart eliminated the motifs of blood ties, pregnancy and the references to the church. Instead she effectively dramatised Lubin’s courage as he dauntlessly confronts the bailiff, the nobleman’s guards and even the nobleman himself. With a few judicious alterations to the original she fundamentally recast the message of the story: whereas Marmontel expressly warns his female readers against trusting all-too naively in ‘the simple laws of nature’ (i.e. illicit love affairs), the stage version turns out to be an unqualified apotheosis to the true and natural love of the two protagonists ...