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Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856)
Si J'étais Roi (1852) (sung in French)
Liliane Berton (soprano) – Nemea; André
Mallabrera (tenor) – Zéphoris; René Bianco (bass-bar) – Mossoul; Henri Medus (bass) – Kadoor; Bernard Alvi (tenor) – Piféar
Orchestra of the Conservatoire Concerts Society/Richard Blareau
rec. Decca/Universal Studios, Antony, France, 1960
ACCORD OPERETTE 476 2104 [46:04 + 47:59]

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It is strange that such a first-class composer, as Adam was, had to undertake his music studies in secret because of parental disapproval. Encouraged by Boieldieu (composer of La Dame Blanche, EMI 7243 5 56355 2), his fluency of composition in conservatoire studies caused him to focus on opera-comique. His chief aim was to provide music that was accessible to the public. In that he succeeded triumphantly.

Si j'étais Roi was written a full fifteen years after his tuneful Le Postillon de Longjumeau (1836) and ballet music, Giselle (1841) had brought lasting fame. The plot set in India on the coast of the Oman sea concerns a king, princess and fishermen. It brings a dream-wish to life and there’s a moral ending that wrongs always go punished.

Act 1: Zephoris is a young, handsome yet poor fisherman. His sister Zelide is in love with another poor fisherman, Pifear. In order to earn enough money to marry Zelide, Pifear carries 'love-messages' from Kadoor - a minister and traitorous cousin of the King - to a foreign ship. The secret messages are destined for enemies of the king.

Meanwhile, Zephoris once saved a beautiful girl from drowning and although he does not know her identity - Princess Nemea, the king's daughter - he falls in love with her. Kadoor wants to marry Nemea himself, yet she pines for the man who saved her life. Kadoor pretends that it was he who saved Nemea's life and bullies Zephoris to swear that the truth will never be revealed. Lying on the beach, Zephoris writes in the sand (before falling asleep) "If I were King..."

The King, walking along the seashore, finds Zephoris asleep on the beach and reads the words written in the sand. The King thinks it would be fun to make Zephoris king for one day and gives orders to take the young man to the palace.

Act 2: Zephoris wakes up in the palace and cannot believe his eyes. Everyone behaves as if he is the king. When Nemea enters the room, he recognizes her immediately and reveals to her that he once saved her life.

 Zephoris organizes a banquet to impress Nemea. Kadoor wants revenge and convinces the real king that the silly game of "King for a Day" should end. So Kadoor puts a sleeping draught in Zephoris's wine glass. The real King orders that the fisherman is taken back to his cabin on the seashore.

Act 3: Zephoris wakes up back in his cabin. Kadoor wants to see the fisherman dead, but Nemea prevents him. The enemy (Portugal) is now about to invade the country. The King discovers that Kadoor is the traitor who ordered Pifear to take messages to a Portuguese ship and asks Zephoris to lead the national army against Portugal. Zephoris defeats the King's enemy and in saving his country is allowed to marry Nemea. Kadoor is exiled.

Medus is a rich resonant bass who, with wide compass, manages to soar effortlessly in 'Eh, quoi! le Prince Kadoor' [CD2 tk.17]. Medus's baritone voice with bass resonance is well-suited to the role of the sinister Kadoor, commanding the right air of authority. Where required, he sings falsetto without any undue artificiality. Berton makes a good contribution with an appropriate air of innocence and purity in the languid phrases of her vocal numbers. Alvi needs no introduction as a competent tenor of this Operette series, and in this recording he does not disappoint. The trio number 'Enfin il la tient' [CD1 tk.9] is very Auber-like in construction. Here the singers are particularly clear in diction and so well-balanced that one can clearly focus on each individual vocal line.

The recording is well balanced within a rather dry ambience, but this enhances clarity in this vintage recording. As I have noticed in many French operetta recordings, sound effects are subtly added and add an extra dimension, unlike those heavy-handed effects that were characteristic of certain Phase 4 British recordings. Here we are aware of the sea gently breaking on the seashore.

The notes are in French only.

Raymond Walker 


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