Ryan Brown's Opera Lafayette is now arguably America's leading period instruments opera ensemble. This is the Washington-area group's fifth complete 18th century work for Naxos (with a couple of single disc collections), and all of their work is consistently excellent. "Le Deserteur" is a premiere recording, and, as best as I can tell, the first full-length recording of a Monsigny opera. The 1769 work was part of a rising group of opera comiques, lighter works created in reaction to the heavy, mythology-laden pieces of opera seria which had dominated the Paris stage. These new operas were not "comical" in our sense (as the buffa tradition would grow to be), but simply not "tragedies lyriques", the specialty works of Gluck and the late Rameau. Specifically, "Le Deserteur" was a "comedie a ariette", a drama with songs--similar to a German Singspiel. The story here is that a young French soldier (Alexis), preparing for battle at the front in Flanders, is convinced by a horrible prank that his betrothed (Louise) has suddenly married another. In a fit of grief he runs away, both to find and upbraid her, and to commit a kind of suicide by execution for desertion. But he's quickly captured and readied for that execution. Meanwhile, Louise hears of this and rushes to him in his cell, and convinces him that it was just a mean-spirited joke by her noble overseer, a duchess. Louise leaves seek help. And in "rescue" tradition, just as Alexis is about to be shot, she returns with a pardon from the King. Brown and Naxos have (thankfully) decided not to include the spoken French dialogue in this recording, but a synopsis of the story-dialogue is included. No libretto, but one is available in both French and English on the Naxos website.
Musically, "Le Deserteur" is similar to the young Mozart (a contemporaneous work, "Bastien und Bastienne", comes to mind, though the Monsigny work is much more complex than the little juvenile Mozart Singspiel). Pergolesi's "La serva padrona" was an inspiration for this period of opera comiques, and I think it shows here (I haven't heard any early Gretry yet).
If there's a weakness here it's with the soloists. Labelle (Louise) is consistently delightful, but I'm less enthusiastic about some of the other singers. But Brown is becoming a master at holding together performances like this, and here, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.