There can’t be many French Revolutionary propaganda comedies but Cherubini’s Koukourgi is one of them. Written in the crisis year of 1792 and intended for the Théatre Feydeau it never actually made it onto the stage and remained unperformed until it was staged by the Stadttheater Klagenfurt in 2010. By then the dialogues, the overture and the finale had been lost but music director Peter Marschik found a couple of bits from other Cherubini operas to fill the musical gaps and director Josef E. Köpplinger supplied rather arch German dialogue to link the musical numbers (sung in French).
Koukourgi is set in China (or thereabouts) at some indefinite period in the past. The title character is the son of a great general but he’s a coward and a glutton who would never do anything as rash as lead his troops in battle. He represents the ancien régime. His nemesis is the hero Amazan, an orphan, who clearly represents the citizen patriot. They are both in love with the lord Fohi’s daughter, Zulma. Their respective philosophies are embodied in the second act duet “Il est bien doux de boire” where Koukourgi prtaises the pleasures of the flesh while Amazan longs for a glorious tomb. You get the idea.
Naturally dad wants to marry Zulmaoff to the high born Koukourgi and kicks Amazan (and his philosophical tutor Sécuro) out oif the castle. This is fortuitous because tartars overrun the place and it takes the heroic actions of Amazan to recover it. He also rescues Fohi and drives off the Tartars while Koukourgi eats and sleeps and sings about how much his mum loves him. Koukourgi’s father appears to denounce his worthless son and name Amazan as his successor. Naturally Fohi grants him his daughter too. We may be good revolutionaries but pretty girls are still commodities to be bestowed upon the worthy.
Musically it’s all a bit slight but pleasant enough. There are some fun marches and choruses and more ensemble numbers than one might typically find in works of a few decades earlier but Mozart it’s not. Marschik and the Kärtner Sinfonieorchester give it a decent shot though.
The production is rather good with highly stylized chnoiserie, looming heads and a masked chorus who look rather porcine. The dialogues are quite clever and there are some nice stage effects like the mid air floating couches in Act 3. The performances too are quite decent. Daniel Prohaska, in the title role, sings well and is funny without being too campy. Johannes Chum sounds suitably heroic as Amazan and Çiǧdem Soyarslan, as Zulma, acts well and has excellent French diction though she does sometimes seem to be straining for her high notes.
Video direction is by Felix Breisach and he really needed to show us more of what is often a rather busy stage. That said, it’s not a bad job and the picture and sound (Dolby 5.1 and LPCM stereo) quality are both good DVD standard. There are no extras but the documentation includes useful information on the work itself and this production. Subtitle options are French, English, German, Spanish, Italian and Korean.