'If La Béarnaise were dependent for its popularity upon the intrinsic beauty of M. Messager's music it might run for ever, or at least for a period of time far exceeding that throughout which Our Boys [Vaudeville Theatre, London, 16 January 1875, 1,362 performances] held the stage. For nothing so dainty, so tuneful, so surpassingly adroit and delectably fascinating as the score of this opera has come to London from the Continent since Les Cloches de Corneville [Folly Theatre, London, 28 February 1878] took this metropolis by storm. But the lasting success of a hybrid work in which sung and spoken dialogue alternate is not - in this country - wholly attributable to the high merit of its music, which, unless strong flavoured with vulgarity, seldom proves so solid an attraction to the pitties and "gods" as does an extravagantly comic text, adroitly fitted to absurd situations and grotesque "business." The duration of a "run," as every manager knows, is governed by the favour of pit and gallery, rather than of stalls and boxes; wherefore it behoves the impresarii of theatres specially affected to the production of comic opera to provide their humbler clients with bright and humorous "books" as well as pretty and taking music. Now the "book" of La Béarnaise is not funny; nay more, it is dull - so dull, that if anything could mar the exquisite pleasure every music-lover must derive from listening to the lovely melodies and sweet, subtle instrumentation with which that opera abounds, it would be the stretches of tiresome dialogue intervening between musical numbers so replete with delicate fancy and graceful contrivance that each one in succession appears more charming than its immediate predecessor. In order to secure unalloyed enjoyment whilst listening to La Béarnaise, perhaps the best thing to do would be to make up one's mind that the dialogue is an unfortunate accident, and pay no attention to it. Some of the lyrics, on the other hand, are well written and by no means devoid of poetical feeling; e.g., "The Two Birds," "Silent Love," "No or Yes," and "I've only one." The verses of these four songs are of much better quality than that to which contemporary librettists have accustomed us, in relation to compositions of this particular class. The same may be said of the mildly humorous words respectively headed "Tantalisation" and "Cousinly Affection," in both of which Mr. Murray evinces a marked improvement upon his "Gibraltar" lyrics.
'About the story of La Béarnaise I shall say nothing, save that it is no sillier or more improbably than comic-opera plots have a prescriptive right to be. It has, moreover, been exhaustively told in the columns of all the dailies and weeklies, so that in all probability the readers of The Theatre are at least as well acquainted with it as I am. To the value of the music and the excellence of its performance I despair of doing justice within the space-limits of a necessarily brief notice. Until I heard this work M. Messager was unknown to me as a composer; but his talent asserted itself so resolutely in the orchestral preface and introductory chorus that, had I heard nothing more than those two numbers, I should have assigned to their author a very high position amongst musicians of the day. Real organic melodies and masterly harmonies flow with equal freedom from his pen; his instrumentation is full of surprises, frequently quaint but always beautiful; her writes for the voice with perfect taste and discretion. Frankly speaking, every number in La Béarnaise is worthy of special laudatory mention. I only venture to point out by name those that seem to me altogether super-excellent. Amongst these are Bianca's song Act I., "Hast thou in the forest mazes," the refrain of Jacquette's lively solo "Although I am a youth bucolic," to which M. Messager has fitted a most ingenious and telling accompaniment; Pomponio's plaint, "You're often round a pastrycook" (Act II.), the clever melody of which is underlaid by another chef d'oeuvre of harmonisation; the delicious berceuse, "Hush and Sleep," with choral accompaniment, a musical gem of the first water; the trio, "Asleep," written on the lines of grand opera, with a spirit and maestria of which Donizetti or Verdi might have been proud; Jacquette's pastoral ditty, "I am a simple village lass," immediately following an admirable chorus displaying at least one entirely novel effect; the orchestral introduction (tempo di Mazurka to Act III. put together with consummate art, somewhat à la Bizet; and, finally, the so-called "Drilling Duet," a bright example of genuinely humorous music, the innate fun of which requires no text to convey its comic significance to the audience.
'Mr. Bruce has been no less wise than fortunate in securing the services of two such accomplished vocalists as Miss St. John and Miss Tempest for the fine soprani rôles created by M. Messager in La Béarnaise. Miss St. John has certainly never filled a part more suitable to her than that of Jacquette, in which she has once more proved herself to be the first of living comic opera prime donne and one of the cleverest comic actresses on any stage. I can pay her no higher compliment than by saying that she vividly reminds me of the Marie Geistinger of twenty years ago, of whose inimitable natural gifts she is the artistic inheritrix. It is always a treat to listen to Miss Tempest's faultless singing, never yet heard to greater advantage than in the grateful rôle of Bianca. More than one encore denoted the firmness of the hold this admirable vocalist has established upon public favour. Mr. Snazelle sings well, and looks sufficiently debonnair as the "gallant gay Lutherian," Captain Perpignac. The Duke of Como (or Parma; which is it? - the playbill says one and the book of words the other!) is cleverly impersonated by Mr. Harcourt whose carefully study of chronic infirmity deserves cordial recognition; a good deal of conventional buffoonery, welcome to the groundlings, is cheerfully rendered by Messrs. Dallas and Bowland, in the characters of Pomponio and Cadet; whilst Mr. Lonnen provokes repeated bursts of laughter by converting a Chief Commissioner of Comoesque or (Parmesan) Police into a Jack Pudding of the obsolete Richardsonian pattern. The orchestra, led by Mr. [Walter] Slaughter, does its work featly and sympathetically; so do the chorus of singers, whose crescendi and diminuendi leave nothing to be desired in the way of effectiveness. Of the scenery, dresses, appointments, and stage-management I can only speak in terms of unqualified praise. For general picturesqueness and special felicity, with relation to colour combinations, the opening tableau of Act III. may fearlessly challenge past and present competition. Within my remembrance, no prettier scene has been set upon the stage of comic or any other sort of opera. La Béarnaise is a shining and well-deserved success. I prognosticate that its public life will be a long and merry one, and I hope that M. Messager will soon let his English admirers hear from him again.'
(William Beatty-Kingston, The Theatre, Monday, 1 November 1886, pp.274-277)