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DVD: Crotchet

Édouard LALO (1823 - 1892)
Le Roi d’Ys (1888)
Giuseppina Piunti (mezzo) - Margared; Guylaine Girard (soprano) - Rozenn; Eric Martin-Bonnet (bass) - Le Roi d’Ys; Sébastien Guèze (tenor) - Mylio; Werner Van Mechelen (baritone) - Karnac; Léonard Graus (bass) - Saint Corentin; Marc Tissons (baritone) - Jahel; Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra Royal de Wallonie/Patrick Davin
Directed by Jean-Louis Pichon; Set designer: Alexandre Heyraud; Costume designer: Frédéric Pineau; Light designer: Michel Theuil; Video director: Matteo Ricchetti
rec. Opéra Royal de Wallonie, 1-3 April 2008
Picture format: 16:9; Colour; NTSC
DYNAMIC 33592 [108:00]
Experience Classicsonline

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 espagnole, 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 in bygone 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.

Göran Forsling


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