We hear a lot these days about new operas, but precious little about older operas from the relatively golden days of musical composition between the wars, operas that remain new to us because they have been so little performed under adequate conditions. Two shining examples of these rarely revived riches came to light at the beginning of May in Manhattan: a pair of short operas by Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), presented at Florence Gould Hall by the French Institute/Alliance française and L’Opéra français de New York. Milhaud, of course, was a marvelously gifted French composer, whose music was formed by an idiosyncratic mixture of Provençal folk music, Brazilian dance rhythms, jazz, and twentieth-century modernism, all brought together by a strong Conservatoire education and Gallic cosmopolitanism.

The two operas, Le pauvre matelot (to a libretto by Jean Cocteau) and Esther de...

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