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The Smoking Dog Tavern from Hahn's Ciboulette/ OPERA/ MUSIC MAIN

Born in Caracas, Reynaldo Hahn moved with his family to Paris at the age of three. There he studied at the Conservatoire under Massenet and made a particular impression with his songs, which he sang himself, to his own piano accompaniment. His interest in the theatre led to his appointment in 1945 as director of the Paris Opéra.

Stage Works

Hahn wrote a considerable amount of music for the theatre, operas, ballets and incidental music. Of these the operetta Ciboulette remains in popular repertoire. Ballets include Le dieu bleu (The Blue God), written for Dyagilev, with a scenario by Cocteau and Madrazo.

Orchestral Music

Orchestral music by Reynaldo Hahn has proved less durable, with concertos for piano and for violin which repay study.

Chamber Music

Chamber music by Hahn includes two string quartets and a piano quintet that stands comparison with Fauré.

Vocal Music

Reynaldo Hahn's songs deserve an honoured place in French vocal repertoire, with the songs of Gabriel Fauré. They include settings of poems from Victor Hugo to Verlaine, with a curious group of songs in Venetian dialect and the ever popular Si mes vers avaient des ailes (If my verses had wings).

CIBOULETTE
R.Hahn
Opéra de Nantes, 1991; Metz, 1992
set design Pascal Lecocq

The Tavern and the Opera

Reynaldo Hahn's operetta Ciboulette opens in the Smoking Dog café in the general market at Les Halles in Paris in 1867. It is five in the morning and a crowd of army officers is carousing with their lady friends. Our hero Antonin, arrives with his girl friend Zénobie, who promptly dumps him for Roger, who has just been promoted Captain. Thus begins a complicated train of events which will eventually result in Antonin getting together with Ciboulette (whom we have not met yet) and living happily ever after (perhaps!).

Ciboulette is one of those operas like Charpentier's Louise which strikes us as characteristically Parisian, and Reynaldo Hahn, along with Charpentier and Offenbach as one of the most Parisian of composers. Although its involved plot and obvious comedy of manners marks it as a operetta, Ciboulette is no slapstick farce. Offenbach fans will look in vain for a succession of witty tunes and a can-can at the end. Hahn is one of those French composers such as Charpentier and Fauré who value clarity and good taste in preference to vulgar ostentation.

The rest of the characters as well as the plot itself are hardly important. Ciboulette comes into town from the farm every day to sell vegetables in the market. As she is twenty and unmarried, everyone is worried she in becoming an old maid. Old Madame Pingret, a 'Sagouine' type of character pronounces a complicated set of predictions by which she will know her future husband. One by one the predictions are fulfilled in the person of Antonin. Along the way Ciboulette is helped by Duparquet, a worldly wise fellow, who, in a truly tear jerking scene (sob!) reveals himself as the Bohème Rodolfe many years later.

How does the Tavern fit into the Opera

In all honesty, we cannot say this is one of the most important taverns in opera. It is mostly a contrivance whereby the hero can be dumped by his girl friend, and can get drunk enough that he passes out in his future wife's cabbage cart. We do not return after the first act, and Ciboulette herself never enters.

For all that, there is a certain service to the story's atmosphere done by the tavern scene. The image provoked is one of frivolity, fickleness, and shallowness, all characteristics of the City of Lights and of most of its inhabitants. This brings into relief the rural values of constancy and permanence which we see Ciboulette bringing from the farm. In the end good triumphs over shallowness, without the tavern coming out the worse for it.

James Hill

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 Hahn: The Complete Recordings (1909-1919)- amazon.co.uk

 Ciboulette - Hahn - amazon.com
Hahn Opera CDs