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Redeeming The Deserter

Herewith the Dresser proclaims that the following is merely talkback to the informative review on the 18th century opera Le Déserteur her good friend and able colleague Charles Downey wrote for The Washington Post. In case you are wondering, Dear Reader, the Dresser saw Opera Lafayette's production of this comic opera by Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny with libretto by Michel-Jean Sedaine in the company of musicologist Downey on January 29, 2009, at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. But furthermore, the Dresser had no intention of writing a review herself because she is overbooked with travel, talks to present, and her own libretto which needs to be finalized for her collaborating composer.


So the talkback is this--while Dresser agrees that Le Déserteur is a minor work with mostly historic value, Opera Lafayette's production, done in concert style but with costumes, dance, and small props, gave the Dresser breath and serenity in her sea of overbusy. Briefly the story concerns a mean trick pulled on the young soldier Alexis who is in love with Louise. A local Duchess decrees that to test Alexis, Louise must mock-marry her daffy cousin Bertrand. In despair, Alexis tries to desert from his army post but gets sentenced to death.

Photo by Julie Lemberger

The Dresser disagrees with her venerable friend that the dancing and narrative assistance by Caroline Copeland was "perhaps superfluous." Au contraire, Copeland's mix of 18th century dance form with more modern ballet movement (and oh, how the Dresser loved the dancer's prim punctuating jumps-in-place) gave energy to what was mostly static stage presence of the singers. Another activity of the dancer was to present the titles (in English) of the scenes. She did this by placing large white placards on an easel. This was in lieu of projected surtitles and enhanced the French text and translation printed in the Kennedy Center Playbill.


One final action of this production was having the chorus (and yes, the Dresser noticed that Claire Kuttler who appeared prominently in John Musto's opera Later the Same Evening was the only female singer in the choral lineup) hold up the words for an audience sing-along. The Dresser realized that in trying to do her part by singing that Monsigny's music wasn't so easy produced from an unfamiliar tongue. Great respect and a doff of the Dresser's beret sweeps low to Dominique LaBelle as Louise and William Sharp as Alexis. And the Dresser must say she loved the charming number between David Newman as the young Montauciel and Tony Boutté as Bertrand, the simple cousin of Louise. One other thing not lost on the Dresser is the sub-text about how Montauciel who is the opera's narrator (the role is done by actor John Lescault and the singer David Newman) can just barely read.

In this time of diminishing reading and now, Dear Reader, have you noticed that not only has The Washington Post cut out arts reviews in their Sunday edition of the paper but they have also deep-sixed the Book World section? So here we are, people will say this is a problem caused by the success of the Internet, but we all know deep down there are many people in our current day world, like Montauciel, who just don't have good reading skills.

The Dresser leaves the talkback with Margaret Ingraham's poem "Satiety" from her new Finishing Line Press book Proper Words for Birds that has many poems about song. This one, however, ponders the question of the great beyond and whether we as humans have any control over our lives.


The shore birds
eat their fill
and yet still
never give themselves
over to the question
how tide decides
what to take,
what to leave.

Margaret B. Ingraham
from Proper Words for Birds

Copyright © 2009 Margaret B. Ingraham


Comments (2)


Do you have a registration of this opera? CD or DVD?
Thank you for answer.

The Dresser:

Most of the libretti that Dresser reads are found on the Internet but helas not this one unless it is hidden some where deep in the search engines. When the Dresser needs a hard to item like this, she goes to her local university and eventually she finds it there or through inter-library loan. Even if you do not have borrowing privileges at a particular university library, they will often let you read a piece on site. I hope this helps.

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