Wednesday, 7 November 2018


Charles Gounod
Lucky opera-goers residing in or traveling to Boston this week will have the rare opportunity to attend a production of Le médecin malgré lui (The Doctor in Spite of Himself), a 3-act opéra comique by the 19th century French composer Charles Gounod (with libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré.)

Based on the 1666 play by the same name by famed playwright Molière, this comedic satire of 17th century French medicine follows the drunken exploits of an abusive wood-cutter (Sganarelle) and his vengeful wife (Martine), who hatches a plot with two brutish servants of a wealthy bourgeoisie (Géronte) to pummel the lout into accepting a new identity as a practising "physician” - forcing him in the process to work out the kinks of the unhappily betrothed daughter of Géronte (presently feigning a bout of hysteria to escape her fate), only to have their collective plans foibled when Sganarelle is offered a small fortune for the job at hand, becoming a rogue doctor 'in spite of himself.'

Gounod's opera would experience initial hesitation by the Comédie-Française (a major state theatre in France famous for hosting its own troupe of actors), who objected to the use of borrowed spoken dialogue and verse from troupe leader Molière's original play - notwithstanding the perceived slight of the memory of Molière himself, who both wrote and starred in his own production – and attempted to block all future performances of the opera.

 Le médecin malgré lui would be successfully revived in 1872 at the Opéra-Comique and would go on to travel far beyond the Parisian stage from where is first premiered (at the Théâtre Lyrique, on 15 January 1858), appearing before enthralled audiences in Hamburg, Stockholm and Warsaw.

Le médecin malgré lui, in spite of itself, would prove to be a smashing success – it would mark its 100th staging back in France from whence it was first revived - at the Opéra-Comique under maestro Sylvain Cambreling on November 25 1978. Both the opera and its composer would earn public and critical acclaim – with shouts of high praise from the likes of Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss and Hector Berlioz, who referenced a recent production of the opera as "Gounod is at his best!"

Russian impresario of Serge Diaghilev was so taken by Le médecin, he commissioned French composer Erik Satie to compose recitatives to replace the spoken dialogue, thereby transforming the work into an entirely sung opera in June 1923. Satie accepted the commission, and the reworked version of Gounod's opera would premiere seven months later, in Monte Carlo on January 5, 1924.

Le médecin, like so many great operas before them, would gradually fade into relative obscurity. It has rarely been performed on stage in recent years, however there have been infrequent, sporadic radio broadcasts of the opera which have been heard over the airwaves – notably by the BBC in the 1950's and on French radio in the 1970's.

The upcoming, fully-staged production by Odyssey Opera, set to premiere at Boston's Huntington Avenue Theatre this Friday, November 9th at 7:30 PM (with an encore performance being held on the 11th at 2:00 PM) promises to introduce to lucky attendees “never before heard” recitatives by Satie.

The production will feature baritone Stephen Salters (Sganarelle), mezzo-soprano Tascha Anderson (Jacqueline), tenor Piotr Buszewski (Leandre) who will be making his Boston debut, and a full orchestra and chorus conducted by Gil Rose, with stage direction by Daniel Pelzig.

Tickets can be purchased at or by calling the number displayed at the end of the teaser shown below:


Listen below to the charming sérénade “Est-on sage dans le bel âge,” from Gounod's Le médecin malgré lui, performed by tenor Michel Cadious and l'Orchestre de la RTBF, under Tony Aubin. Recorded at Brussels. 1959

- Rose.

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