Opera in four acts. Running Time 1 hour 42 minutes.
PLOT: France, 1830s. Fortunio (tenor) is employed as a clerk for Maitre Andre (baritone), who also employs his cousin Landry (baritone-martin). Andre’s wife Jacqueline (soprano) is carrying on an affair with Captain Clavaroche (baritone) and decides to use Fortunio has a decoy so as to keep her real liaison with Clavaroche from her husband. She eventually ends up falling in love with the smitten Fortunio who at first believes all of her overtures to be genuine. Eventually she dismisses the captain in favour of the clerk.
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: The town square in front of the house of Maitre Andre, lawyer . Clerks drinking and playing boules.
0: The opening scene * as the clerks drink and play boules races around for a while on an excited melody leading to a jaunty drinking toast by Landry at first in honour of Maitre Andre and then (more liltingly) for Jacqueline. Fortunio and uncle Subtil come on, the former terrified about going into employment and wanting to return home. Subtil calls out his son to take Fortunio under his wing.
6: Fortunio explains to his cousin that he really doesn’t belong here in a nice little aria *. He is shy and sensitive and fantasizes about a mystery girl to whom he wants to be totally devoted. Landry tells him that women will make him forget about this mystery girl and that there is nothing to worry about their employer. The soldiers arrive and some townspeople come out. Clavaroche goes on about Jacqueline with his men for a while which sets up that part of the plot.
21: There is a suddenly a change over in the music (a crescendo) as Jacqueline comes home from mass with Maitre Andre. Jacqueline is introduced to Clavaroche and alone together he tries to seduce her after she goes on about how she and her elderly husband (Andre is over 60) have what basically amounts to a father-daughter relationship. At first she thinks his overtures are a joke but she soon feels herself falling against her better judgement *. Maitre Andre comes on and the three embark on a trio focusing on Clavaroche’s name.
24.30: Fortunio sees Jacqueline and instantly explodes with love for her *. Landry, shocked, tells him that she is their employer’s wife and now Fortunio wants to work as a clerk. A cute little march tune (lead at first by a solo flute) closes the act.
ACT 2: Jacqueline’s chambers.
2: Maitre Andre is furious (as is the orchestra). He wakes up Jacqueline with accusations that one of his clerks, Guillaume, saw a man the previous night enter her bedroom window. She distracts him with a strong but sweet plea that he neglects her **. They engage in a musically relatively dull dialogue given the circumstance until about three minutes in when she tenderly reminds him that today is their wedding anniversary, and he woke her so violently regarding someone who is most likely her maid’s lover. He draws the curtain, she makes to go back to bed and he goes.
10: But NO! It was not the maid’s lover who sneaked in last night but Clavaroche who consummated an affair with the not so innocent Jacqueline *. He gets a crazy idea in his head about killing Andre in a duel but they decide on a decoy who will be suspected by Andre instead while his relationship with Jacqueline will be totally innocent. Madelon, Jacqueline’s maid, tells her to take Fortunio as the decoy.
18: The chorus of clerks ** as they greet their mistress and Landry presents her with flowers. She gives them the day off and asks that she be let alone with Fortunio. Landry is shocked but the other clerks depart.
24: Alone Jacqueline asks Fortunio to keep a secret and he reveals that he has the soul of a peasant **.
30: She presents her situation as that of a friend of hers (a cliche at this point theatrically). They rather ardently agree until he explodes with love for her ** and basically admits all of his feelings while she protests and asks him to kindly leave then. “Poor child” she says to herself as he leaves.
ACT 3: The garden of Maitre Andre’s home.
2: After an ardent prelude Landry entertains us with yet another air (this time about a faithless woman) * before he and Guillaume make fun of Fortunio for acting as a stooge for the mistress. There is a mini-climax about six minutes in. Clavaroche comes on awaiting Jacqueline who tells him that everything is set up with Fortunio as stooge but she already seems to be weakening in her interest for the captain.
12: Maitre Andre comes on and although he has plans of hosting a big party and dinner later on he invites Clavaroche and Fortunio to a smaller pre-dinner with Jacqueline and himself. Andre gives us a rather dashing but old fashioned air about wine *.
14: Fortunio obliges Andre’s request for a song with a rather sad but striking love song about a man’s willingness to die for the woman he loves ***.
17: Andre gets the upper hand on Clavaroche and orders him out for a game of piquet. Jacqueline momentarily leaves promising to return which causes Fortunio to go crazy with love ***.
20: Jacqueline returns and a duet commences **. She is happy with him and likes his name (it reminds her of flutes). He confesses that the song was written for her. She plays with his affection
25: They remember when they first met that morning after mass ***. He begs her to let him make love to her and she eventually flees telling him that she can no longer trust herself with him. He climaxes with rapture. Clavaroche returns from the game and tells Jacqueline that Andre has stupidity told him that he will post four men to run through her lover in the night. Fortunio realizes that the captain is Jacqueline’s lover as the curtain falls.
ACT 4: Jacqueline’s room as in act 2.
3: Jacqueline is guilty-guilty and the orchestra frets around in terror for a while before settling and she admits to really not liking herself all that much **. Having warned Fortunio in a note via Madelon of Clavaroche’s trap (or rather his using Andre’s trap in order to divert suspicion from himself). She prays to God to open her heart to Fortunio’s pure love for her.
7: Madelon arrives telling her mistress that Fortunio is at the door. Alone together he reveals that he has overheard everything and he admits to hoping against hope that when her hand trembled in his that she loved him **. He begs her to love him and faints briefly, he then tries to flee but she reminds him of the four men ready to kill him outside and there is another musical explosion, this time from Jacqueline.
10: This leads into love’s abandon for the two *** which is suddenly killed by the footsteps of Andre and Clavaroche who come in searching for Jacqueline’s lover, but she has not hidden Fortunio in any place that Clavaroche or her husband would suspect.
13: Andre provides us with one nice little tune * as he wishes his wife a good night’s sleep and the two men leave (the captain with his marching orders, she is finished with him). After wishing her husband good night one last time she releases Fortunio from his hiding place and they commences what may prove to be a much more long term relationship as the curtain falls.
In many ways this is a sweet and rather adorable work. Messager obvious took care to make Fortunio into one of French opera’s most sensitive male characters complete with liltingly gorgeous sustained tenor lines and amorous musical explosions. It is a little hard getting used to the fact that our two main characters, for all that is right about their chemistry with each other, are embarking on an adulterous relationship. One is hopeful that unlike her rather ill matched week-long fling with Clavaroche, Jacqueline might actually hold on to Fortunio for say five or six good decades. Much of the music does fall into the rather typically French realm of mild as milk music which although pleasant on the ear and melodic is not all that interesting dramatically. This is especially true of the first act but by the beginning of act two we start to get some serious music (Jacqueline’s reminder of the wedding anniversary) and especially with much of the music in which Fortunio and Jacqueline are alone together, there is some real heat and even rather stunning love music. Landry is more of a scenic filler character who acts sort of like a guide to his cousin in the first act and then quickly becomes window dressing, I am not sure if this is deliberate or not. Clavaroche is a rather uncomfortable character, really apart from setting up the situation leading to Fortunio’s eventual love affair with Jacqueline (which might possibly go somewhere in time and where there seems to be more than just a physical attraction) you would rather have more of Maitre Andre than the captain. The sequences between Clavaroche and Jacqueline are rather weak and melodically fragmentary with little of the warmth that comes from when Jacqueline is alone with Fortunio. Speaking of Jacqueline, she is much more interesting as she actually matures as the story unfolds (she is probably the only character who actually does). She takes stock of herself several times in the opera, usually prompted by Fortunio’s passionate declarations of love and sweets requests for affection, and even rebukes herself for her horrid life choices on several occasions (most notably at the start of act four). One rather wishes that she were Andre’s randy twenty-year old daughter finally finding genuine love rather than his cheating wife. Fortunio himself, as already stated, is an adorably endearing young man who we immediately feel for (when he wants to go back home, when he wants to find and love one woman all his life, when he declares his love onto death for Jacqueline) and it is obvious that the audience is ultimately meant to relate with him, while at the same time his over-amorous actions and outbursts leave him solidly within the theatrical world and hopefully not real life. Oh and another note. In act three Andre mentions a party, this party actually occurs in the opera, in the fourth act of a later revision of the opera which mostly consists of a ballet and the scene in which Fortunio gets the note from Madelon along with rebuking Jacqueline in front of the guests, thus enraging Maitre Andre. An enjoyable B+.