When only eighteen years old, Bizet won jointly with Charles Lecocq a competition organised by Offenbach to write an operetta based on a libretto which was a French adaptation of Sheridan's "St Patrick's Day".
The result was "Le docteur Miracle", a charming, fizzing piece containing echoes of Rossini and passages anticipatory of "Carmen"; the greatest pleasure it affords to the listener is in the lively ensembles, but there are arias such as the Mayor's "Jai déjà compté dans ma vie" which sound like pure Don Magnifico, as in Rossini's "La cenerentola". The plot is simplicity itself, with elements familiar from more celebrated operas such "The Barber of Seville" concerning the efforts of young lovers to circumvent their elders' attempts to keep them apart and of course it alludes to other operas such as "L'elisir d'amore" and "Così fan tutte" in which "medical miracles" feature prominently for comic effect.
There appear to be only four other extant recordings: one a provincial performance in English from 1959, two French radio broadcasts from the early 70's, both featuring the tenor Rémy Corazza, and another French-language version recorded in Lublin, Poland, in 2002, in which the "Podestat" is Pierre-Yves Pruvot, the same baritone we hear on this new recording. I have heard and reviewed only the 1975 off-air recording conducted by Bruno Amaducci and available on Opera d'Oro. This recording from the "Timpani" label instantly presents several important advantages over that Radio France disc, the first being modern sound without the sudden muffled bouts in an otherwise very listenable stereo broadcast. Secondly, the overture is here complete at 5'35"; the Opera d'Oro disc fades it in, as the first thirty bars are missing on the original tape. Thirdly, we are given a complete French-English libretto whereas Opera d'Oro (in its de luxe "Grand Tier" edition only, of course, not the standard bargain issue) provides only the sung text and not the spoken dialogue. Finally, this recording made in Avignon asks the singers to deliver their own dialogue instead of importing actors whose voices are almost invariably mismatched with the singers'; that trap is triumphantly avoided here.
All of which should predispose me to recommend it unhesitatingly over the Amaducci recording - but it's not quite that simple. While there is nothing wrong with Samuel Jean's direction, Amaducci is a more lively and idiomatic conductor; furthermore he has a quartet of star-singers from the 70's, especially that most elegant of French baritones, Robert Massard and the lovely creamy, plaintive soprano of Christiane Eda-Pierre. She occasionally skirts a certain under-the-note quality but she is an accomplished and touching singer with an excellent trill; her aria "Ne me grondez pas" is reminiscent of Teresa's aria "Je vais le voir" from Berlioz's "Benvenuto Cellini" which Eda-Pierre recorded under Colin Davis. Lyliane Guitton is excellent as Véronique and although the tenor of Rémy Corazza (whose voice reminds me very much of Welsh tenor Ryland Davies) is a bit bleaty, he is wholly in genre.
With the exception of Pruvot's attractive baritone - he is also amusing and adept in his dialogue - none of Jean's singers is the equal of those for Amaducci, although they are very competent singers who work very well as an ensemble. However, having nearly gone under, l'Orchestre Lyrique Région Avignon-Provence, here confirms its resurgence and proves its worth with some excellent playing.
The production values for this CD issue are ambitious and it is very attractively presented with a booklet, neat artwork and a slip-case but the usual problems with clumsy translation and sloppy proofing apply: "Podestat" should clearly be translated as "Mayor", not "Counsellor" given that the libretto is set in Padua, which has a "podestà; the translation of the libretto is far too free and loses nuances in the original French libretto; thus, for example, "Ces chants à lui sont bien plus doux" becomes "Because I know that's not his voice" when it should be, ""His songs are much sweeter"; there are numerous typos in the English ("garnison" for "garrison", "teh" for "the"; "mit-wit" for "nit-wit"; "maid" for "made" and so on); the translation of the booklet essay is a gem of obfuscation (perhaps attributable to the rather pretentious French original), so we get sentences such as, "The final quartet is highly evolutional" and, "The archaic introduction installs an atmosphere of religiosity." Finally, and inexplicably, the translator chooses to give Silvio (or "Sivio" as the booklet first calls him) an assumed "cockney" (sic) accent whereas the Podestat specifically refers to "La rusticité de son langage". I know translators are often poorly paid, but please...
The cumulative effect of these admittedly nit-picking flaws is one of irritation but in the end it's the music which counts and this rare work is given a spirited and entertaining airing.