The son of a French plantation owner and a slave from Senegal, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George, was born on the island of Guadeloupe on Christmas Day, 1745. Shipped off to France at an early age, the exotic young swashbuckler soon made waves throughout Europe as a swordsman, violinist, and composer. In the latter capacity, his style (along with everyone else’s at the time) bore a family resemblance to Mozart’s. Indeed, Bologne has long haunted the shadows of music history as “the Black Mozart,” a sobriquet fast disappearing, yet there’s reason to suppose that the two musicians were not unknown to each other. For a period of over two months, they lived under the same roof in Paris. (Don’t be picturing La Bohème. The roof was that of a Duke’s mansion.)
Of Bologne’s six operas, only L’Amant Anonyme (The Anonymous Lover) survives. As the title suggests, it’s a romantic comedy, predicated on the feints and self-deceptions that Molière mostly made fun of and Marivaux mostly took to heart. Though the orchestration is chamber-scale, vocal fireworks abound. A cast from the young-artists program of the Los Angeles Opera delivers even the most extravagant displays with remarkable aplomb. In the killer role of Léontine, a far-from-merry widow with a very long-suffering secret admirer, the lustrous soprano Tiffany Townsend conjures up a budding Jessye Norman in aria after aria.