Premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on 7 May 1888,
this three-act opera with a libretto by Édouard Blau was
inspired by a Breton legend. It was composed between 1875 and
1878 but was turned down by both Théâtre Lyrique
and the Opéra de Paris. After a revision in 1886 it was
finally mounted and became a great success, reaching its hundredth
performance within a year. At the premiere Margared was sung
by the great
Blanche Deschamps-Jéhin. Played in several European opera
houses, it reached USA in 1890, featured at Covent Garden in
1901 and in 1922 made its debut at the Metropolitan in New York
with Rosa Ponselle as Margared, Beniamino Gigli as Mylio and
Francis Alda as Rozenn. It had a run however of only six performances
and after WW2 has rarely been seen.
During the last two years
it has emerged from obscurity. In October 2007 it was staged
in Toulouse, a production also brought to Beijing in April 2008,
which was also the month when the present production was mounted
in Liège. In October 2008 it was presented in a concert
performance at Avery Fisher Hall, New York. There have been at
least three complete recordings, all with forces from French
radio. In 1957 André Cluytens conducted a cast including
Janine Micheau, Rita Gorr, Henri Legay and Jean Borthayre; in
1973 Pierre Dervaux led a performance with Andrea Guiot, Jane
Rhodes, Alain Vanzo and Robert Massard; and in 1988 Erato recorded
it with Armin Jordan conducting and Jean-Philippe Courtis, Delorès
Ziegler and Barbara Hendricks among the soloists. The issue under
review is a world premiere on DVD.
The story: Margared, daughter of the King of Ys, is going to
marry Karnac, who has been an enemy of the city. But she is really
in love with Mylio, who has been away for several years. When
she finds out that Mylio has returned she backs out of the wedding.
Karnac is furious and plans revenge. It then turns out that Mylio
actually loves Margared’s sister, Rozenn, and that the
King has promised them to be married if Mylio wins over Karnac.
Mylio wins all right and the jealous Margared joins forces with
Karnac. They decide to flood the whole city by opening the sluice
gates, protecting the city from the sea.
During the wedding ceremony of Mylio and Rozenn Margared appears
and tells the people that Karnac has opened the gates. Mylio
kills Karnac but it is too late, the water gushes forth and many
are drowned. Margared then becomes remorseful and hurls herself
into the water. The city’s patron saint, St. Corentin,
then appears and makes the water recede. It’s a horrific
story with a happy ending after all.
Édouard Lalo is today primarily known for his five-movement Symphonie
, which in spite of its title is a violin concerto.
It is melodious and attractive with Spanish flavour but easily
recognisable as typically French romanticism. The Spanish elements
are missing in Le Roi d’Ys
but the music here has
many of the positive features of the symphony: beautiful themes,
rhythmically alive, spectacular choral scenes - the opening chorus
requires a co-conductor since the singers are standing with their
backs towards the conductor - a fine duet for the two sisters,
fine instrumental solos and a lot of powerful and dramatic music,
especially in the final act with water flowing wildly. It’s
almost like a modern catastrophe movie.
The overture is excellent and puts in the occasional appearance
on concert programmes. The only well-known number is Mylio’s
aubade in the third act, Vainement, ma bien-aimée
recorded by many great singers, Nicolai Gedda and Alain Vanzo
among them. It was first made famous by Nellie Melba who recorded
it in the early 20th
century. It is sung acceptably
here by the light lyrical Sébastien Guèze who has
good legato and ends it in half-voice. Werner Van Mechelen and
Eric Martin-Bonnet make honourable contributions as Karnac and
the King, but the undoubted stars are the two sisters, of which
Giuseppina Piunti’s Margared is truly magnificent. Guylaine
Girard is not far behind and their duet in the first act is a
true highlight. The young Patrick Davin leads his forces convincingly
and the chorus is impressive.
The staging is a bit static and not very thrilling, in spite
of the dramatic plot but the flooding of the city in the last
act is spectacular.
Considering the popularity of Le Roi d’Ys
days - and the obvious renaissance just now - it is good to have
it available on DVD. A search on Operabase, by the way, gave
no hits for the foreseeable future, so it seems that this is
the only opportunity to watch it.