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ClassicsOnline Home » PHILIDOR, F.-A. D.: Sancho Panca dans son isle [Opera-bouffon] (Perry, Calleo, Sulayman, McCall, Opera Lafayette, Brown)
International chess virtuoso François-André Danican Philidor’s fortunes as a musician at the court of Versailles were transformed when he turned his attention to the new genre of opéra-comique. Sancho Pança, gouverneur dans l’isle de Barataria derives from Cervantes’s famous novel Don Quijote, covering Sancho Panza’s adventures as governor of a fictitious island on which a succession of characters plot to cure him of his delusions of grandeur. Opera Lafayette’s production of this comedy revue is a ‘sparkle of shining surfaces’. (Washington Post)
By Christie Grimstad
François-André Danican Philidor (1726–1795)
Sancho Pança, gouverneur dans l’île de Barataria
An opéra-bouffon in one act
Libretto by Antoine-Alexandre-Henri Poinsinet (1735–1769)
Edition: Le Sr Hue, Paris
Sancho Pança - Darren Perry, Baritone
Thérèse (his wife) / Une Gouvernante - Elizabeth Calleo, Soprano
Lope Tocho / Le Fermier / Un Barbier - Karim Sulayman, Tenor
Juliette / La Bergère / Une Paysanne - Meghan McCall, Soprano
Le Docteur / Don Crispinos / Le Tailleur - Tony Boutté, Tenor
Torillos / Le Procureur - Eric Christopher Black, Baritone
Un Paysan - Andrew Sauvageau, Baritone
François-André Danican Philidor was born in Dreux into a family of musicians. The actual family name, Danican, may point to a Scottish origin: Duncan. Philidor was a nickname given by Louis XIII to the grandfather of our composer because his playing was as beautiful as that of an Italian virtuoso named Filidoro. Our composer’s father, André Danican Philidor (ca. 1652–1730), was the librarian of Louis XIV, and a composer in his own right. Other musicians of the Danican Philidor family include François-André’s uncle, Jacques; his half-brother, Anne, and his first cousin, Pierre. François-André received his musical education from André Campra while he was a page-boy at the royal chapel at Versailles. In 1738, a motet of his, now lost, was performed at the Versailles chapel. In 1740, he settled in Paris teaching, performing and copying music, but he quickly made a name for himself as a chess player. Diderot called him “Philidor le subtil.” In 1745, he was stranded in the middle of a concert tour of the Netherlands and managed to support himself by playing chess. He eventually reached London (1746) where he soon established himself as the chess champion of Northern Europe. In 1748, he published a treatise, L’Analyse des échecs, which was translated into English in 1749 and later into several other languages. Such was its success that it was republished many times up to the twentieth century. He returned to Paris in 1754, published his only instrumental work, a set of six quartets entitled L’Art de la modulation (1755) and embarked on a career as composer of opéras-comiques.
Between 1759 and 1765, he scored eight successes: Blaise le savetier (Blaise the cobbler) (1759), Le jardinier et son seigneur (The Gardener and his Lord) (1761), Le maréchal ferrant (The Blacksmith) (1761), Sancho Pança, gouverneur dans l’île de Barataria (Sancho Panca, Governor of the Island of Barataria) (1762), Le bûcheron (The Lumberjack) (1763), Le sorcier (The Sorcerer) (1764), Tom Jones (1765), and Le tonnelier (The Cooper) (1765). Sancho Pança, Le Sorcier and Tom Jones are written to libretti by Poinsinet, but the libretto of Tom Jones was revised by Sedaine in 1766. Philidor’s first tragédie lyrique, Ernelinde (1767), is also on a libretto by Poinsinet which was revised by Sedaine in 1773. It only enjoyed a succès d’estime. From 1775 to 1792, Philidor returned annually to London where he pursued his career as chess player, while producing in Paris, although at a lesser rate, works for the stage such as Les femmes vengées (1775) and Thémistocle (1785). He also composed an unusual cantata on Latin texts from Horace’s odes, Carmen saeculare (1779) (Naxos 8.557593–94). He spent his final years in London relying on his chess skills to survive, as the French Revolution and the war between France and Great Britain prevented royalties from the performance of his works from reaching him.
The only child of notary Henry-Marie Poinsinet and his wife Françoise-Martine Cartier, Antoine-Alexandre-Henri Poinsinet was born in Fontainebleau on October 27, 1734. His parents wished him to pursue his father’s career, but the young Poinsinet showed a talent for versification and developed such a strong a taste for the stage that he chose a career in literature. His first play, Totinet, a verse parody in one act of the Abbé de la Marre’s pastoral Titon et l’Aurore, was performed at the Opéra Comique theater of the Saint-Germain fair in 1753. No less than 18 other plays would follow in the next 16 years. At least seven were unqualified successes, starting with Poinsinet’s next play, Les Fra- Maçonnes (1754), a parody of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Les Amazones, an act from the composer’s opéra-ballet, Les Festes de l’Amour et de l’Hymen. This was followed by Gilles, garçon peintre, z’amoureux-t-et rival (1758), Sancho Pança, gouverneur dans l’île de Barataria (1764), Le Sorcier (1764), Le Cercle ou la Soirée à la mode (1764), Tom Jones (1765/66), La Réconciliation villageoise (1765), and Théonie ou le Toucher (1767). These successes aroused considerable envy, and many took advantage of Poinsinet’s gullible nature and unabashed pride to play practical jokes on him. For example, he was told that his success had earned him a position at the Russian court, provided he would learn Russian with a tutor appointed by the Russian court. He took lessons for weeks before discovering that he was being a taught a Breton dialect.
In 1760, he traveled across Italy and was so completely spellbound by Italian music that upon his return he wrote his most successful libretti for Philidor, which incorporated some of the Italian verve into French opéra-comique. At the beginning of 1769, he joined a troupe that traveled to Spain to produce Italian and French operas. There, on a very hot day on June 7, he died of a seizure while taking a bath at noontime in the Guadalquivir River outside Cordoba.
Nizam P. Kettaneh
Sancho Pança, gouverneur dans l’île de Barataria
It was a blessing to the development of musical theatre that François-André Danican Philidor decided to apply his well-trained musicianship and prodigious musical imagination to the burgeoning genre of opéra-comique. Poinsinet’s libretto for Sancho Pança clearly inspired the composer, and the remarkable variety of invention that Philidor brought to this work is apparent at every turn. As Sancho Pança is a sort of comedy revue, with new characters taking the stage one after the other, Philidor’s challenge was to immediately characterize familiar comedic personalities, while expanding Sancho’s own character over the course of the work.
Poinsinet took his subject from Miguel de Cervantes’s famous novel Don Quijote. The first part of the novel was published in 1605 and became an instant success. In 1615 Cervantes published the second part in which a duke and a duchess welcome Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to their castle and devise all sorts of schemes presumably intended to cure our heroes of their delusions. Chapters 42 to 55 cover the adventures of Sancho Panza as governor of the Island of Barataria, from which Poinsinet fashioned his scenario. Poinsinet’s cast includes Thérèse, Sancho’s wife, Lope Tocho, a neighbour who wants to marry their daughter Sancha, the servant Torillos, various inhabitants of Barataria, Juliette, Sancho’s young sweetheart, Don Crispinos, Juliette’s betrothed, a Shepherdess, a Farmer, and a Doctor.
The music begins, sans Overture, with Sancho’s wife Thérèse complaining bitterly of Sancho to Lope Tocho, Je fallais voir au village . We hear Thérèse and Sancho exchanging slaps, ‘pif paf,’ and then, towards the end, Thérèse suggesting provocatively that, however angry, in the evening she might be appeased. In Lope Tocho’s aria Dans ces grands châteaux  Lope makes fun of yawning duchesses and princesses and contrasts their lives with the happy one he, Sancha, Sancho and Thérèse will enjoy on his farm. This aria also mirrors Thérèse’s in that the quick sections change character for a moment to suggest “le soir, laissez faire notre ménagerie, ne se plaindra pas,” i.e. in the nighttime Lope will take care of Sancha in such a way she will have no cause to complain. In the trio Est-ce lui?  Thérèse and Lope laugh at Sancho’s pompous entrance. Sancho is annoyed, then angry, and the air turns into a fight between Sancho and Thérèse with Lope caught in the middle. After the trio Lope asks Sancho for the hand of Sancha, but Sancho refuses, explaining in the air Je veux que Sancha brille  that he expects her to bring honour to her family by becoming a member of the royal court. His exaggerated delivery and the donkey-like braying of the violins in the background remind us, however, of Sancho’s true character.
Sancho’s dinner is delayed by the arrival of various inhabitants of Barataria, who first bring the new governor honorific greetings, but then plead their cases before him in an increasingly cacophonous ensemble Chantons, chantons la bienvenue . After the inhabitants leave, Torillos announces the arrival of the young Juliette. She sings Je vais seulette  to the pastoral accompaniment of an oboe, with whom she imitates a supposedly innocent dialogue she has with her parrot. This dialogue has her sing “baise-moi” (“kiss me”, but with a double-entendre) in increasingly heightened tones over a repetitive undulating bass line. Sancho then joins her in the duet Vous serez ma Dulcinée  in which he promises, after his wife dies, to make her a princess. The hint of a habanera rhythm suggests both Spain and a passionate dance. Thérèse catches them in this compromising duet, and in the sarcastic Ne viens pas , pretends to compliment Juliette, and then spitefully says she’ll strangle them both. Don Crispinos, Juliette’s betrothed, arrives, and challenges Sancho to a duel Une, deux . The musical swordplay alternates with verbal asides and tremulous shudders revealing both blusterers to be cowards, and ends with each shouting epithets to the other as they leave on opposite sides of the stage.
Sancho, alone, hungry, and dejected, next sings the aria Je suis comme une pauvre boule , imagining himself a ball being rolled and pushed around by children at play, depicted musically by rapidly rising and falling sixteenth notes (semiquavers) in the violins, and punctuated by staccato fortes in the winds. After this central aria, Sancho is called upon to arbitrate a dispute between a shepherdess and a farmer. First we hear Je ne suis qu’une bergère , a masterfully simple and compact setting of the shepherdess’s side of the story, where she accuses the farmer of taking her “bouquet”, against her will. The farmer then says she is lying, and, in Je m’en revenais chantant  describes how, the more ardent he was, the more amused and agreeable she became. Sancho then displays a true peasant’s sagacity by telling the farmer to give the shepherdess a treasured handkerchief the farmer bought for his sister, and then instructing the farmer to try to take it back from the shepherdess however he can. In the duet Tu me le rendras  the girl successfully keeps it from the young man’s grasp, and Sancho wisely declares that had she guarded her bouquet as well as she guarded this handkerchief, she never would have lost it. He orders them to get married as punishment for delaying his dinner.
Torillos, who had tardily arrived with a doctor after Sancho’s ‘ball’ aria , delays dinner further by announcing that the Doctor has brought Sancho a letter from Don Quixote. As neither Sancho nor Torillos can read, the Doctor begins to read it, Ami, Sancho , but becomes increasingly annoyed over the course of the aria by Sancho’s constant interruptions during which Sancho imagines all sorts of good things Quixote must be trying to tell him. Instead, it turns out the letter announces that Quixote’s enemies are going to attack Sancho and Barataria that very evening, and Quixote will not be able to arrive in time to aid Sancho. Sancho declares he cannot be courageous on an empty stomach, whereupon Torillos orders the dinner, and a Symphonie “Fanfare” is heard. In a duet for the Doctor and Sancho La Soupe rend flegmatique  the servants bring all sorts of delicious smelling dishes, but the Doctor describes the deleterious effects of every one and orders each taken away, to Sancho’s complete exasperation. In fact, Sancho is about to attack the Doctor and tear out his eyes when the Doctor calms him by allowing him a serving of chicken. Before Sancho can eat it, however, the noise of the attack of the enemies is heard and all except Sancho run off to prepare to defend themselves. The following scene, Ils sont partis , alternates battle music and the distant call of Sancho’s pastoral home, and in recitative Sancho reacts to each with fear or longing while complaining of his gnawing hunger pains. Finally, in a lovely short air, Sancho falls to his knees and asks Heaven to return him to his country home, never to leave again. There is one last happy distraction, however, when he sees a roast and salad, and hides under a table to eat, Mais, que vois-je , while cursing the battle outside. Torillos arrives, with servants carrying arms, finds Sancho in his cowardly position, and exhorts him to fight. Sancho refuses, and in a whirling, vertiginous quartet Prenez vite cette lance , Sancho hands the weapons over to Lope and renounces the Governorship, while Thérèse, Lope, and Torillos call for an explanation. Sancho says he will be happy to return home to wife and friend, and consents to the marriage of Lope and Sancha. The Doctor arrives, announcing that the Island is back at peace and the enemies have been vanquished, but Sancho declares he was born to till the land and not to defend it, and he prefers a soup he can drink to a rich meal he is only allowed to see. In the final Vaudeville, Sancho sings the first verse Je vais revoir ma chère métairie , and Thérèse, Lope, and Torillos sing verses mocking various members of society who try to be something they are not. The Doctor closes by saying that the nobleman is born to serve his country, the villager to till the land, the magistrate to render justice, and the physician to heal people – let everyone stick to his state and everything will shine the brighter. In refrain the chorus sings that whatever happens, one must live within one’s condition.
It is not known what prompted Poinsinet to look to Don Quijote for a subject for his opéra-comique, but the following theory has been suggested by Nizam Kettaneh in his scholarship on this opera: France was at the time embroiled in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), fighting against Britain in Europe, North America, and India. In 1761 Spain joined France against England in an attempt to save its Caribbean colonies from being taken over by British troops. After taking Guadeloupe (1759), the British forces took the Dominican Island in 1761 and laid siege to Havana on 6 June 1762. The combined French and Spanish forces were unable to save the city, one of the largest in the New World, and Havana fell to the British on 10 August 1762. Eventually, peace was restored by the Treaty of Paris signed on 10 February 1763. France was the biggest loser. It ceded Louisiana to Spain and the rest of New France (Canada and the Mid-West), along with all its possessions in India except its trading ports, to England. The French intelligentsia much resented the poor performance of the French forces during the Seven Years’ War and blamed it on the incompetence of the government. It is not impossible that the choice of the government of Sancho Panza as subject for Poinsinet’s opéra-comique was a sly criticism of the French government.
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