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Lalo Le Roi d'Ys

Orchestra & chorus of the Opera Royal de Wallonie/Patrick Davin

Margared – Giuseppina Piunti Rozenn – Guylaine Girard Le Roi – Eric Martin-Bonnet Mylio – Sebastien Gueze Karmac – Werner Van Mechelen

Director – Jean-Louis Pichon Recorded April 2008, c100 minutes

DVD - 33592

Dynamic CD – 592/1-2

First premiered in Paris in 1888, Le Roi d’Ys was an immediate success, with its Act III Aubade (Vainement, ma bien aimee, on croit) remaining a hit, which no tenor* could afford to omit from his repertoire, for many years.

Opera was very much at a turning point at that time. Verdi was coming to the end of his career and “grand opera” was being replaced by the opposing strands of Wagner’s epic sagas and the modern realism of the “verismo” movement. Somehow Lalo managed to combine elements of both; his story derives from Breton legend, but his characters are very much flesh and blood people. Indeed the role of “bad sister” Margared is amongst the great villainesses of the operatic stage, plotting against her country and finally hurling herself to a cataclysmic death.

Lalo was also a very good tunesmith, giving each of the principals fine arias and ensembles, and the chorus has some very lively moments. The story is coherently handled and, whilst the resources required to stage the piece are not insignificant, this opera deserves regular performance. Whatever its merits, and although it must be somewhere on the Opera Holland Park long-list, it now seems to be firmly consigned to the “rarities” category.

This makes the recent recording welcome, doubly so, since it is available in both CD and DVD format. The casting is very strong throughout, and the staging is on the whole exemplary. I do have a quibble with the first, formal court scene in which the chorus sing a celebratory ode to the royal party. Whilst the royalty, who are not required to sing at this time, are perfectly sensibly seated on raised thrones at the centre back of the stage, this forces the chorus to face upstage, with their on-stage conductor part of the action, and the sound of their voices is horribly muffled. If you are listening on CD, this is the first singing that you hear, and the poor sound quality is certainly off-putting.

I have already mentioned the pivotal role of Margared. On this recording we have the mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Piunti who is a fine actress who is not afraid to let an ugly tinge into her voice to reflect the drama of the piece. Again, I think this works best when sound and picture are united, and my recommendation would certainly be to acquire the DVD, which also has the benefit of sub-titles. (No libretto is boxed with the CDs although attention is drawn to its availability on-line at the Dynamic website)

For those who have a preference for CD, there is a choice, as what must now be regarded as a vintage recording under Pierre Dervaux dating from 1973 remains in the catalogue (Gala GL 100.599). The sound quality is clean, with Margared being none other than Jane Rhodes, chiefly remembered for her incomparable Offenbach roles, but effective in this darker mood. 47 minutes of Bonus Tracks are included featuring historical recordings of arias from the opera, from 1920-47.

Serena Fenwick

* Not only tenors – Melba famously jumped on the band wagon, recording it for HMV (DB.354) “(She) lends it delightful charm”.