With La coccinelle
we move to the year 1868 which ushers in the second important period of mélodie composition. This song has already been mentioned as an example of the composer’s ability to ‘stage’ a lyric. We only have to compare Saint-Saëns’ shorter and drier setting (it has the advantage of an acerbic brevity not inappropriate to the strictures of the ladybird) to realize how Bizet, time and time again, revelled in the characters of real people – particularly if they were representative of a type he understood from life. In remarkably few bars he creates for us the character of a stumbling, gauche youth, over-sexed and inexperienced, who loses his chance to steal a kiss (and perhaps more) by not seizing it at exactly the right moment. The mournful refrain ‘J’aurais dû!’ which closes the song seems to have been composed with the rueful smile of a man looking back to his own youth. The whole scene is played out at a ball, and Bizet establishes this with the minimum of difficulty – a few strokes of the pen and the curtain is made to rise on a little operatic scene in waltz time. Bizet also revels in something that could not have worked on the opera stage – a malicious solo aria for the ladybird itself (‘Fils, apprends comme on me nomme’). The singer is surely allowed to invent a suitable voice for the horrible little party-pooper. The pun on ‘bête’ (‘creature’) and ‘bêtise’ (‘stupidity’) plays on the French nickname for this insect, ‘La bête au bon Dieu’.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1998